Twelve Things that can Disrupt Your Sleep
America is Exhausted
America has become a 24 hour society, and we are paying the price for the luxury of grocery shopping at 3:00 AM and working around the clock. The problem is so profound there are concerns that sleep deprivation is affecting the collective brain power and creativity of the American people. We are a society of somnambulists—and we are dangerous, both to ourselves and others. Technological advancements were supposed to provide more leisure time, but it hasn’t yet offered enough to get a good night’s rest. We are more on the go than ever, and America is exhausted. Most adults get 6-7 hours of sleep each night, well short of what is required for an active adult. The sleep deficit is enough that even sleeping in on weekends doesn’t correct the problem.
Without adequate rest, the brain works harder to function correctly, and with diminishing returns. Concentration, judgment and reaction times are quickly impaired. Slurred speech, irritability and depression soon follow. A prolonged lack of sleep eventually leads to paranoia and hallucinations, and can even result in physical impairments including diabetes and heart disease.
A National Sleep Foundation survey indicated that 60% of Americans admitted to driving a vehicle while feeling drowsy. At least 100,000 auto accidents a year are said to be caused by sleep deprivation, resulting in over $12 billion in property loss. It has been suggested that famous disasters from the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger to the grounding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker could be attributed (at least in part) to the individuals responsible for making decisions suffering from sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation was deemed a significant factor in the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, as well as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union. The Challenger incident jeopardized the future of NASA and the space shuttle program, while the Exxon Valdez oil spill and nuclear facilities accidents threatened the environment, the economy and lives.
We Need More Sleep
Twelve Factors that can Affect Your Sleep
How can we get a more restful sleep at night? We can understand and control factors that affect our ability to sleep well. Many things can interfere with our rest, but the following list includes some of the most common causes of poor sleep.
1. Food. Digesting a meal is not a passive activity. Our stomach, circulatory system, pancreas and digestive track are all quite busy after a big meal. In addition, a spicy diet may result in acid reflux while rich, heavy foods in the evening can lead to indigestion.
2. Alcohol. Although alcohol might help you fall asleep, it interferes with dreaming and deep sleep stages. To minimize the effects of alcohol on restful sleep, it is recommended that a drink with dinner be the final drink of the day.
3. Liquids. Drinking too much water can awaken you during the night to use the bathroom, particularly if you suffer from diabetes or other medical conditions that contribute to frequent urination. You will be better rested if you drink less before bedtime.
4. Caffeine. Caffeine is a strong stimulant that interferes with both your ability to sleep and the quality of your rest. If you must drink caffeinated beverages, they should not be consumed after dinner to ensure sound sleep.
5. Exercise. Vigorous exercise elevates the heart rate and inhibits your ability to wind down. Strenuous activity may also aggravate aches and pains that can keep you awake. Studies have revealed that when you exercise in the morning, you will more easily fall asleep at night. Exercise in the evenings did not help and often inhibited falling asleep.
6. Sex. Sex can be pleasant and relaxing, but it can inhibit sleep if it is not both physically and mentally rewarding. If the time with your partner is not satisfying, frustration or emotional issues can surface and affect your sleep.
7. Smoking. Nicotine is a powerful central-nervous system stimulant. Many smokers also confess to waking after four or five hours with nicotine cravings. If you must smoke, it is recommended that your last cigarette of the day be at least four hours before bedtime.
8. An irregular schedule. Your body responds to a regular schedule of activity and sleep can be affected by working rotating shifts or long hours. Even when getting enough sleep, if your sleeping patterns are irregular you will notice the effects. Your sleep is most restful at night.
9. Room Temperature. Temperature extremes can affect your rest. You won’t sleep soundly if your room is too hot, and a cold room interferes with REM sleep. A comfortable temperature for sleeping varies widely between individuals, but it has been suggested that 60-65 degrees is considered a “good sleeping” temperature.
10. Television. Most Americans have a television in their bedroom, and the urge to see how a program ends or catch a late-night talk show can be powerful. If you fall asleep while watching television, program your TV to shut down after 30 minutes so it is quiet and dark while you’re sleeping.
11. Light. You will sleep best in a dark, quiet room. Too much light affects our internal clock, and it has been determined that illumination from a television or even a clock can interfere with restful sleep.
12. Sounds. Some may enjoy falling asleep to music, but the volume should be low and the music must shut off after awhile. Sudden or jarring sounds (even from music) may cause you to wake up in the night, preventing you from reaching deeper levels of sleep.
If focusing on these conditions doesn’t improve your quality of sleep, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder and should consult a doctor.
Wake up, America
Most Americans are sleep deprived, even though the benefits of a restful sleep are myriad. A good night’s sleep is crucial to your physical and emotional well-being. Sleep boosts your memory and makes you more alert; it reduces stress; it keeps your heart healthy; and, it reduces the risk of cancer and depression. With eight hours of sleep each night, you can awaken alert, refreshed and able to begin your day without reliance upon stimulants.
Fighting sleep deprivation is not an all-or-nothing proposition: small changes can mean significant improvements. Getting a little more rest will help, even if it still isn’t quite enough. Monitoring the environment you sleep in to ensure optimal conditions for sleeping well will also yield positive results. Watching when and how much you eat, drink or smoke will dramatically improve the quality of your rest. A little more sleep will make a noticeable difference and America will be a safer, healthier society.
Good night, everyone.
Want to learn more about sleep and how it affects us? Click on the link to read this outstanding article-- Sleep: Do We Need It?
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