Are you getting enough sleep every night? If not, your health is at risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, getting fewer than 7 hours of sleep a night promotes high blood pressure, weight gain, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, anxiety, and depression.
Insufficient sleep also disrupts daily life and impairs mental performance, increasing the chance of auto accidents, work injuries, medical errors, and loss of work productivity.
Now, new research from the CDC indicates that over one-third of all adults in America – some 83 million people – don't get the recommended 7 hour nightly minimum.
Interestingly, who you are and your stage in life may significantly impact how much sleep you're getting.
Sleep levels were highest among adults over 65, while about 40% of adults aged 25 to 64 are sleep-deprived.
Higher rates of poor sleep are found among black, Native Hawaiian, and multi-racial adults, and among adults who are divorced, widowed or separated.
And adults with a college degree or higher reported better sleep than those without a college degree.
For the first time, the CDC also analyzed data on a state-by-state basis, which confirmed that areas with higher rates of poor sleep also had higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and death from heart disease and stroke.
Why is sleep so crucial?
When you sleep, your brain forms new pathways to improve learning and memory.
And it's the crucial time your brain needs to prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.
Good sleep is crucial for memory formation, and it resets your brain to be able to pay attention, make decisions, and be creative.
In turn, poor sleep actually alters brain activity, leading to poor decision making and problem solving, mood fluctuations and an inability to cope with change.
At its worst, sleep deficiency can be linked with depression and risky behavior.
Not only does your brain need sleep, but your body also counts on quality sleep to heal.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, "sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.”
Sleep deficiency also raises the risk of obesity at all stages of life.
For example, one study of teenagers showed that each hour of lost sleep raised the odds of becoming obese.
And poor sleep can bleed over from the personal to the professional – studies show decreased efficiency and safety in the work place with sleep deprivation.
So, what can you do?
Fortunately, even minor lifestyle changes can result in better sleep, sometimes immediately.
Here are 4 tips to get you back on the road to great health with better sleep.
#1 Ban pre-bed electronics
Solid research shows that you should kick your computer, tablet and phone out of bed … and abstain from them for at least an hour before bedtime.
Banning bedtime electronics isn't just about minimizing stress, either.
While it's true that a late-night email from work can create tension or anxiety, evening electronic use has a more physical (and sinister effect).
Studies show that the blue light emitted by self-luminous displays cause your body's levels of melatonin to plummet.
What's the big deal? Melatonin is the hormone that's responsible for setting and regulating your "internal clock.”
Your body secretes melatonin when it gets dark, and high melatonin levels are the physical trigger to want to go to sleep.
Just two hours of exposure to light from electronic displays significantly suppresses melatonin levels, waking you up instead of preparing you for quality sleep.
Not only can content from your devices wake up your brain, their blue-light screens tell your body it's not time to prepare for sleep.
Luckily, kicking this habit can provide nearly immediate improvements to sleep quality.
#2: Try some gentle yoga
An interesting study from 2014 looked at how effective gentle yoga was at improving sleep quality among older adults with insomnia.
After just 12 weeks of twice-weekly yoga classes – which incorporated yoga postures, meditative yoga and home meditation practice – the participating adults reported improvements in sleep quality, time it took to fall asleep, energy levels, and mood.
#3: Let music soothe you to sleep
If you're like me, the last time I listened to music as I fell asleep was in high school.
For whatever reason, it's a practice I abandoned in adulthood.
However, research indicates that relaxing music at bedtime can genuinely improve the overall quality of your sleep.
One such study, published in 2012, compared the quality of sleep of 50 adults, 25 of whom fell asleep to self-selected or researcher-selected soothing music, 25 of which slept with no music.
Over the course of four days, data was gathered by researchers on sleep quality, and participants also self-reported their perceived quality of sleep.
The music group had significantly better scores for how restful their sleep was, including longer periods of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep apparently the most important sleep state – compared to the no-music group.
In addition, there was no improvement with researcher-selected music.
Those who chose their own soothing music got equally high-quality sleep, and these results were seen in just a few days.
#4: Quit sleeping in!
This recommendation is the hardest for me to adopt, but the facts are there.
Varying your sleep schedule throughout the week is doing you no favors!
Your body functions on a well-calibrated internal clock called a circadian rhythm.
This internal, biological clock regulates all periods of wakefulness and sleepiness throughout each 24-hour cycle.
You'll notice your body has natural dips and spikes of sleepiness – this is your body following its own natural rhythm, and while everyone's rhythm is somewhat different, there are some similarities.
For example, most adults have the strongest desire to sleep between 2:00 and 4:00am and again in the afternoon between 1:00 and 3:00pm (explaining that longing for an afternoon nap or extra cup of coffee!).
Any time you alter or vary your sleep and wake schedule, you disrupt the natural cadence of your circadian rhythm.
By maintaining a consistent schedule, you optimize your chances for high-quality sleep.
And while jet lag may be the most obvious example of a disrupted sleep cycle, even an extra hour or two of sleep on the weekends can be disruptive.
To maximize your odds of a great night's sleep, maintain your usual routine, even when your schedule might allow you to sleep in or stay up a bit later.
- Halpern J, Cohen M, Kennedy G, Reece J, Cahan C, Baharav A. Yoga for improving sleep quality and quality of life for older adults. Altern Ther Health Med. 2014 May-Jun; 20(3): 37-46.
- Liu Y, Wheaton AG, Chapman DP, Cunningham TJ, Lu H, Croft JB. Prevalence of Healthy Sleep Duration among Adults – United States, 2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016; 65: 137–141.
- Wang, Chun-Fang, Ying-Li Sun, and Hong-Xin Zang. Music therapy improves sleep quality in acute and chronic sleep disorders: A meta-analysis of 10 randomized studies. International Journal of Nursing Studies 51.1 (2014) : 51-62.