Each spring we change our clocks to Daylight Saving Time and lose an hour of sleep. But millions of Americans lose many hours of sleep on a regular basis simply by not making sleep a priority.
The National Sleep Foundation has issued new recommendations for time spent sleeping for all age groups. The consensus remains at seven to nine hours of sleep for most adults.
Studies have suggested that as many as 30 percent of adults get less than six hours of sleep regularly and that this percentage has significantly increased in the past 30 years. Family and work demands have eroded the amount of time that Americans are willing to devote to sleep. New entertainment options also take their toll on sleep time.
If you are waking up still tired and requiring caffeine or energy drinks to get you through the day, you are possibly not getting enough sleep. This can cause job performance problems or safety concerns when operating machinery.
Chronic sleep deprivation doesn't just put job performance at risk. Studies have suggested increased mortality risk in people who sleep less than six hours per day. It seems that sleep deprivation may lead to the release of stress mediators that are associated with the development of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Immune function is also damaged by sleep deprivation. Furthermore, sleep deprivation has been associated with mediators that can cause overeating and obesity.
To improve one's sleep, one must first make it a priority. Steps that I recommend to help people sleep include the following:
■ Set a regular schedule with a set time for arising and going to bed. This helps to stabilize your internal clock.
■ Try to get daily exercise, but not within four hours of bedtime.
■ Develop your own bedtime ritual so that you can wind down before trying to sleep.
■ Make sure that your bed and bedroom are comfortable.
■ Stop using electronic devices, such as computers and cellphones at least ½ hour before bedtime.
■ Avoid alcohol or caffeine close to bedtime.
If you do these steps and spend adequate time in bed, but still don't feel rested, you may need to discuss this with your physician or a sleep specialist to help determine if other conditions are keeping you from getting restful sleep.