In this age of endless notifications on smartphone screens, long work days, and the need to always be "on the go," it's no wonder that so few of us don't get enough sleep. It's becoming increasingly harder to turn your brain off at the end of the day. Anxiety starts to seep in, and mental to-do lists grow longer, and before you know it, it's well past midnight and you're still wide awake. Whether you suffer from a genuine sleep disorder, you work odd hours doing shifts, or you're simply tossing and turning, don't fret -- there are plenty of tips and tricks you can utilize to help you get a restful sleep.
There might be more on the line than simply feeling refreshed the next day -- according to the infographic below, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has linked sleeplessness to health issues, increased chance of accidents, and mental impairments. Plus, you could be unknowingly flirting with an increased risk of cancer, diabetes, depression, or obesity. All of these dangers can be a hard price to pay for not getting enough Zs.
A few more interesting statistics from the infographic:
● Americans sleep for an average 6.8 hours per night, according to a 2013 Gallup poll;
● In 1942, Americans slept for an average 7.9 hours per night;
● 40 percent of the population gets less than 7 hours of sleep per night;
● Yet 56 percent percent of Americans say they get all the sleep they need.
If you fall under that last point, yet you're constantly drowsy and propping yourself up with caffeine, you might want to rethink the idea that the amount of sleep you're getting is right for you. Being a workaholic who "doesn't need sleep" may sound like a bragging right, but look at all the benefits you're missing out on: improved motor skills, weight management, improved memory, and lowered stress levels, just to name a few.
Ready to improve your sleep? There might not be a magic pill (yet), but there are some healthy habits you can train yourself into doing. Healthy Sleep at Harvard refers to this as "sleep hygiene" and notes that these practices can "help anyone maximize the hours they spend sleeping, even those whose sleep is affected by insomnia, jet lag, or shift work."
Here are a few things you can do to reap the benefits of better sleep:
● Stick to the same schedule when it comes to waking up and going to bed every day (even on weekends).
● Develop a pre-bed routine that helps you prep for sleep, possibly including taking a warm bath, reading a book, or drinking decaffeinated tea
● Avoid caffeine (which can be found in coffee, tea, cola, and even pain relievers), alcohol, and nicotine before bedtime, as they all can impair your ability to sleep deeply.
● Avoid eating large, heavy meals before bed -- your digestive system may struggle with it and you could have a hard time falling asleep. If you're ravenous before bedtime, this article from Reader's Digest recommends that you choose snacks that promote good sleep, such as tryptophan-rich dairy products, a small handful of nuts, cherries, or herbal tea.
● Lower the amount of light your body is receiving at least an hour before bed, which will condition your brain into associating less light with upcoming bedtime.
● Reduce computer, smartphone and tablet usage in the hours before going to bed, so your brain also knows to "turn off."
● Try to make your bedroom cooler with a fan, open window, or air conditioning -- lowering your body temperature can help you fall asleep more quickly.
● Maintain that the bedroom is for sleeping, not watching TV or eating meals. The more your brain can associate the room with sleep, the easier it will be for you to get in a drowsy mood once you lay down.
● Lastly, if you really find you can't fall asleep when you want to don't force it. Struggling to force yourself to go to sleep only leads to frustration -- it's best to listen to your body and let it find its rhythm.
If you are suffering from a debilitating sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea, it's recommended that you visit a doctor to get a diagnosis and clinical treatment. Professional sleep therapy and equipment is available to help you get a better night's sleep.
How many hours of sleep do you get a night on average? Do you feel it's just right, or not enough? Tell us about it in the comments.