We’re not telling you anything new when we say that lack of sleep can make for a grumpy, foggy, irritable person the next day. Or that most people need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.
We’re also not telling you anything new when we say that too-little sleep can also wreck your sex life, health, memory, concentration – and even your ability to lose weight.
Roughly 20 percent of Americans today report that they get less than six hours of sleep per night. That fact, coupled with the fact that one in three people have at least mild insomnia (it affects women more than men), makes for a very sleep-deprived public.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. There are clear-cut reasons your sleep is not what it could – and should – be. And where there are reasons, there are solutions.
1. Being Overweight
Extra pounds – especially in the neck and trunk areas – puts you at risk for sleep apnea, which compromises the quality and duration of your sleep and affects an estimated 18 million Americans. With sleep apnea, your airway becomes blocked or obstructed during sleep. Left untreated, the condition, which causes you to stop breathing repeatedly during sleep, can cause hypertension, stroke or heart failure. It’s not uncommon for people to wake hundreds of times during the night when it occurs. Losing weight and getting consistent exercise both go a long way toward helping you lose weight and hence,improve your sleep.
A new study from Brigham and Women ‘s Hospital finds that the short-wave blue light emitted from e-readers, like the iPad, iPhone, Kindle and Kindle Fire, can make it harder to fall asleep. Why? When this type of light hits the optic nerve, it signals your brain to stop producing melatonin, which is necessary to promote sleep. Swap your e-reader in for a real book, or at the very least, shut down all electronic devices (including computers and television) at least two hours before sleep. If you must use them, there are special non-prescription glasses that can block that sleep-stealing blue light.
3. The Temperature In Your Bedroom
A too hot room can make it tough to sleep. That’s because the warm temperature may interfere with your body’s natural tendency to lower its temperature to prepare for sleep. Many instances of insomnia, researchers find, are caused by a problem with body temperature regulation. Most sleep experts advise you sleep in a cool room, with an average temperature of around 65 degrees.
When stress hits, your body gets a signal to produce cortisol, a hormone which is produced by the adrenal gland. It’s naturally produced in the morning, when it can be helpful to get you up and moving. However at night, you don’t want to be up and moving – you want to be sleeping. The way to banish the spike in cortisol is to eliminate your stress with things like meditation, deep breathing, yoga and a warm bath (but not too warm, as it will raise your body temperature too much) before bed. If you've had a fight with your bedmate, maybe think twice before going to bed angry!
Yes, working out can make your body tired, which is a good thing when it comes to sleep. However, if you exercise too vigorously too close to bedtime, you’re left with feeling too energized and revved-up. Instead, finish up at least three hours prior to bedtime.
Your eyes may be closed when you try to drift off to sleep – but out of sight doesn’t necessarily mean out of mind. A messy room can distract you from the reason you’re in there – to sleep – and can cause anxiety and restlessness. It is a reminder of all your unfinished business for the day.
7. Eating The Wrong Foods
The National Sleep Foundation warns against eating foods containing excessive amounts of salt or fat. Those, they say, can stimulate your brainwaves, rather than calm them. Instead of reaching for a pre-bedtime snack of chips or ice cream, snack smart and eat something like a half a banana and a handful of almonds, some whole-grain crackers and peanut butter or a mug of warm milk, which contains tryptophan, an amino acid linked to sleep quality.
Over-the-counter pain medications like Excedrin and Bayer Back and Body might be good at easing pain, but at the same time, they can ruin your sleep. That’s because they contain caffeine. While caffeine is helpful at getting the medication to absorb more quickly, it can interfere with your sleep. So can certain nasal decongestants and daytime cold and flu medications, many of which contain pseudoephedrine, which can make you feel jittery. Other medication culprits may include diuretics, water pills for heart disease and high blood pressure and ADD medications like Ritalin and Adderall.