How to Recover From a Sleep Deficit
Economic woes keep many of us awake, but you can give yourself a bedtime bailout package.
By Jeffrey Rossman, PhD, Rodale.com
Canít sleep? If you find yourself looking up at the ceiling at 3 am thinking about your financial future, know that you are not alone. A third of Americans say that they have been losing sleep over the state of the economy and personal financial concerns, according to the results of a poll released last month by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). The economy has added to the already epidemic number of Americans experiencing sleep difficulties: 72 percent of American adults report sleeping less than 8 hours a night, up from 62 percent in 2001. And 20 percent of adults report sleeping less than 6 hours a night, up from 13 percent in 2001.
Losing sleep does more than make you tired. Insufficient sleep is related to numerous cognitive, emotional, and medical conditions, including impaired concentration and anxiety, depression, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, as well as memory and immune dysfunction. Sleep deprivation is a public-safety issue as well, causing tens of thousands of car and truck accidents every year. In the recent NSF poll, 54 percent of drivers said they had driven while drowsy at least once during the past year, and 28 percent said they had nodded off or fallen asleep while driving a vehicle. When sleep-deprived subjects are brought into the lab to perform a driving simulation, they perform more poorly than intoxicated subjects.
WHAT IT MEANS: If you are one of the millions of people who are not getting the sleep you need, there are several strategies you can use to improve your sleep:
1. Stick to a schedule.
Do your best to fall sleep at about the same time each night and wake up at about the same time each morning, weekends included. Your body does best with a regular sleep-wake rhythm.
2. Stay away from food and alcohol.
Avoid eating for at least 3 hours before going to bed. Avoid drinking alcohol late in the evening. While a drink or two might relax you at first and help you fall asleep, the effect can wear off during the night, causing a rebound alertness that can wake you up and make it hard to get back to sleep.
Engage in vigorous exercise most days of the week for at least 30 minutes. ďVigorousĒ means that most of the time, youíre too out of breath to speak more than a few words. If exercising in the evening makes it hard for you to get to sleep, do your workout in the morning or afternoon.
4. Create a restful bedroom.
Make sure your bedroom environment is conducive to sleep. It should be dark, quiet, cool, and uncluttered. We spend so much time in our bedrooms that we tend to overlook the simple changes that could help us get more sleep, such as hanging thicker curtains to block out light, or moving the bed away from a noisy window.
5. Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex.
The moment you get into bed, you want to have a feeling of rest and relaxation that invites sleep. But if you engage in brain-stimulating activities in the bedroom, such as watching TV, sending e-mails, or talking on the phone, you become conditioned to associate your bed with energy and alertness, and that interferes with sleep.
6. Learn how to relax your body and quiet your mind.
Simple relaxation techniques like slow abdominal breathing, progressive relaxation, or guided imagery allow your body to release tension and your mind to settle down so you can ease into sleep. If itís worry and anxiety that keep your mind from settling down, keep a notebook by your bed and jot down your concerns (and any possible solutions) before you turn out the light. The act of recording your worries so you can tackle them later helps you feel more in control.
7. Donít worry about falling sleep!
While this might sound like the ultimate catch-22 for someone struggling to sleep, this may be the most overlooked tactic of all. The truth is, you can lessen the struggle by changing the way you think about sleep. Instead of thinking, Iíll never get to sleep. Iíll be a wreck tomorrow, say to yourself, Eventually, Iíll get to sleep. Even if I donít get a full nightís sleep, Iíll be able to function tomorrow. I always do. Try turning your alarm clock to the side so you wonít be constantly confronted with how late it is.
Jeff Rossman, PhD, is a Rodale.com advisor, and director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, MA. His column, Mind-Body-Mood Booster, appears most weeks on Rodale.com.