A whopping 40 percent of Americans are getting less than their recommended nightly sleep -- an issue the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes as a "public health problem."
But more people and corporations are increasingly waking up to the importance of a healthy night's sleep. Leading the charge is the Hartford-based health insurance giant Aetna. Under the leadership of CEO Mark Bertolini, the company has made sleep health a major priority in the workplace -- and now it will share the art and science of good sleep with the public.
Aetna is sponsoring a new content series entitled "Healthy Sleep Matters: A New Look at the Importance of Sleep." It features articles including sponsored stories on The New York Times website, quizzes, videos and infographics, social media posts and a week-long "takeover" on the company's internal website to raise awareness among employees.
Dr. Ed Pezalla, Aetna's clinical sleep expert, said the idea arose during a brainstorm in which executives realized that sleep is a critical issue for people of all ages and demographics, not just adolescents.
"It also fit into other issues that we were working on at the time, like distracted driving, drowsy driving and driving under the influence of certain medications," he told The Huffington Post. "And we thought, sleep is an integral part of life that we should talk about."
The new content offers scientific facts and practical tips around sleep. One of the "sleep tip" quote cards from Aetna's senior medical director reads, "Having a sleep routine that includes preparing for the next day creates less anxiety in the morning."
In one video, which has been viewed over 1.5 million times on YouTube and is featured below, a group of people who haven't been able to dream because of a sleep disorder describe the first vivid dreams they've had in years.
In another video, the "Aetna Sleep Deprivation Challenge," highlights the impact of sleep deprivation, as it shows athletes and stunt people going through everyday obstacles while under the simulated effects of sleep deprivation -- including poor balance and coordination, slow reaction time and a lack of mental clarity.
This focus on health sleep, stress reduction and wellness is deeply ingrained into Aetna's corporate culture.
"We want to talk about this in the wider community -- this is a community issue," Pezalla said. "But within our own offices too, we want to educate them about getting healthy sleep. This fits very well with our corporate approach to wellness, which includes working with our employees on mindfulness and making stress-reduction techniques available to them. Sleep is one part of this broader effort to help our workforce be healthier."
Bertolini has been an outspoken wellness advocate since 2004, when he experienced a near-fatal ski accident. To recover and cope with the chronic pain he was experiencing, Bertolini took up yoga, meditation and other holistic health practices. Now, he offers meditation and yoga classes to his more than 50,000 employees.
A study conducted on Aetna employees revealed that among the roughly one quarter of those who participated in the classes have reported on average a 28 percent reduction in their stress levels and a 20 percent improvement in sleep quality. These more relaxed and better-rested workers gain 62 minutes per week of productivity each on average -- a boost that the company estimates to be worth $3,000 per employee per year.
"Overall, people function better if they've had enough sleep," Pezalla said. "Productivity studies show that one of the things that reduces productivity is when people haven't gotten enough sleep -- it's harder to engage and its harder to stay focused."
Another study on 239 Aetna employees -- one third of whom took yoga classes at work, one third meditation classes and one third who did neither -- revealed that workers who took yoga and meditation classes reported significant reductions in their stress levels as well as relief from sleep disturbances.
"The first year after we did the program, our health care costs actually dropped 7.5 percent as a company," Bertolini told PBS in May.
Aetna hopes to change the national conversation around sleep, recognizing our need for eight hours of nightly rest as the third pillar of health, along with diet and exercise.
"The important thing here is to recognize that we do have control over our sleep to some extent," Pezalla said. "We can make a healthy sleep environment for ourselves, we can work on reducing stress in our daily lives through mindfulness. Hopefully by talking about it more, people will realize that we can do better on sleep."
Kokoon EEG Headphones
These form-fitting headphones use algorithms to analyze your sleep and automatically adjust audio levels accordingly. The accompanying Kokoon app gives you detailed information about into your sleep patterns, as well as a library of guided sleep tapes developed by sleep scientists for those times when you’re having an especially hard time. As the community of wearers grows and gives feedback, the “intelligent library” expands and evolves according to what works best for most people. And a smart alarm wakes you up at the optimal time in your sleep cycle.Kokoon EEG Headphones are available for pre-order for $219; expected to ship in 2016; https://kokoon.io.
These smart earphones may save the day (or the night) if you’re hypersensitive to noise or sleep beside a snoring partner. Creator Daniel Lee
says that in college he was often kept up by noise, but that drowning out the noise came with its own problems. “One night, as I was lying in bed next to a particularly irritating ‘celebration’ next door, I desperately thought that there just had to be a better way; I needed to be able to block out all these noises but, at the same time, still hear my alarm to wake up for classes in the morning,” he told me. “That's when the idea for Hush hit me.” So he created Bluetooth-enabled earplugs that communicate with your phone, allowing
you to customize which alerts or calls you want to be woken up for. And when your alarm rings, only you--not your partner or roommate who may want to sleep in--will hear it.Hush headphones are available for pre-order for $150; expected to ship in December 2015; https://hush.technology.
Offered by the company AcousticSheep, these elastic headphones look like a headband you’d wear running in the winter, and help you fall asleep to the music or white noise of your choice. In 2015, they announced a Bluetooth model, so you can wirelessly stream your sleep sounds from a phone or other device.SleepPhones are available starting at $39.95; www.sleepphones.com.
Try a nightcap--but not the alcoholic variety. Dr. Michael Larson set out to create a product that would induce sleep naturally, finding inspiration in hypnosis. The result is Sleep Shepherd, a nightcap made of light, breathable fabric and featuring a brain wave sensor and two speakers. The cap plays sounds in each ear and then monitors your brainwaves, adjusting the frequency of the tones accordingly. Once you fall asleep, the tones stop. Sleep Shepherd is available for $149.99; sleephat.com.
Wellograph wellness watch
Wellograph, an electronics maker, is adding sleep tracking to the list of features on its smartwatch. The new technology will also be able to monitor stress, which is, of course, a key obstacle to sleep. The Wellograph watch is available for $299; https://wellograph.com/
This waterproof device fits over your finger and gives a detailed overview of your sleep each night. It will tell you how long you slept, how "efficient" your sleep was and how long you spent in various sleep cycles. OURA will also track your resting heart rate and provide data about your daytime activities, ideally helping you achieve overall wellness in your sleeping and waking life.OURA ring is available for pre-order starting at $299; http://ouraring.com/.
Sleep Pillow Sounds
This app uses 70 background sounds–from “light rain” to “row boat” to “cold drink with ice”–to help you get to sleep. It also allows you to create up to 300,000 customized sounds.
Sleep Pillow Sounds is free on the App Store.
This app promises to help you “beat insomnia” by generating a unique mix drawn from music and billions of possible sound effects each time you start it. It also includes a “Power Nap” function and the choice of stereo or 3-D sounds.
Pzizz is free on the App Store and Google Play.
This app is a robust sleep tracker with a “Sleep Lab” function that can analyze your sleep over time and also integrate with the Apple Health app. It also includes exercise suggestions to help you optimize your sleep.
Sleep Time is $1.99 on the App Store and free on Google Play.
This company, aimed at creating the “smart nursery,” has invented ways to monitor babies’ sleep by tracking breathing, movement, and sleep patterns through a sensor-equipped onesie. Dulcie Madden, the co-founder of parent company Rest Devices, believes parents can use this data to improve their baby’s sleep—and consequently get more sleep themselves. www.mimobaby.com
The Baby Shusher
The Baby Shusher
The Baby Shusher looks sort of like a minimalist pepper mill, and is small enough to be placed in the baby’s crib. The idea is that “the rhythmic shush reminds the baby of being inside the womb, where there is a constant inundation of loud sounds from blood flow and other in utero noises.” The timer can be set for 15 to 30 minutes. The makers also offer the Baby Shusher app -- the same shushing,via your smart phone.www.babyshusher.com
Sound Sleeper, a white noise app with a timer, not only gives you a “womb” sound option, but also a “hair dryer,” a “Shhhh,” and a “Vacuum Cleaner” option. After the timer runs out, if the baby starts crying again the noise will resume. And if a noise you want isn’t offered, you can record your own, as well as track your baby’s sleep.
Sound Sleeper is free on the App Store and Google Play.
This activity logger allows you to track your baby’s naps alongside feeding times and other aspects of baby care and well-being such as temperature, mood and diaper changes.
Baby Connect is $4.99 on the App Store and Google Play.
Eat Sleep: Simple Baby Tracking
Make Sail, Inc.
This app allows you to track your baby’s eating, sleeping, and diaper changes each day, giving you an easy-to-access breakdown of your child’s activities. For the sleep function, you enter the time your baby wakes up and then how long they napped. Eat Sleep also allows you to track sleep of multiple children and sync the data across devices.
Eat Sleep: Simple Baby Tracking is free on the App Store.
Baby Sleep Instant
With its selection of monotonous, low-frequency sounds ranging from shushes and heartbeats to the whirl of a washing machine, Baby Sleep Instant helps lull your baby to sleep. If none of the pre-loaded sounds do the trick, the app allows you to record your own.
Baby Sleep Instant is free on Google Play.
White Noise Ambiance
This app’s library of 80 different soundcreates a relaxing mood for adults and babies alike. It was designed by a father with 6-month-old twin daughterswho wouldn’t sleep at the same time.
White Noise Ambiance is $1.99 on the App Store.
Sleepy Baby Light Bulb
While different types of light can disrupt sleep, the Sleepy Baby bulb emits soft white light in an effort to promote healthy sleep patterns. It promises to help your baby sleep for longer periods of time and get back to sleep quicker should he or she awake in the night.The Sleepy Baby light bulb is $29.95; https://definitydigital.com/bulb/id-sleepybaby/Sleepy_Baby