We all know we need more of it. But frankly, we are having trouble getting it. Are we talking about exercise, leafy green vegetables, or sex? Nope — although those are worthwhile guesses. We are talking about sleep! It’s a vital process for the human brain and body, yet we willingly (or unwillingly) skimp on sleep on a regular basis. But how much of it is actually within our control and because of our ever-hectic lifestyles?
First, in honor of Sleep Awareness Week — March 14-20, 2021 — let’s first talk about what is typical in the United States for sleep.
How much sleep are you getting?
According to the CDC, most American adults sleep a bit less than seven hours per night — but it’s recommended that we sleep between seven and nine hours. According to Gallup News, in 1942, Americans snoozed 7.9 hours on average per night, compared to 6.8 hours in 2013 — a 13% decrease.
What position do you tend to sleep in?
While sleeping on your back is considered the healthiest position, only 37.5% of adults feel comfortable this way. Most prefer the fetal position (on the side), at about 54.1%.
Do you feel chilly when you wake up?
Feeling cold at night is normal — your body temperature drops a couple of degrees when you sleep, which is why a warm bedroom is not conducive to deep sleep.
How long does it take you to fall asleep?
You might brag to others that you fall asleep when your head hits the pillow, but this can actually be a sign of sleep deprivation, according to the CDC. Falling asleep should take about 15 minutes.
Do you suffer from a sleep disorder?
Almost half of adults — 48% — reported that they snore. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, with about 30% adults struggling with it, and 10% chronically so, according to the National Institute for Biotechnology Information.
Do you use a sleeping aid?
A whopping 9 million Americans use a prescription sleep aid to get a night of rest. Unfortunately, this is not healthy — prescription aids are associated with a high mortality rate and a 35% higher chance of developing cancer, according to The BMJ, a peer-reviewed medical journal.
So, What Can We Do to Create Better Sleep?
If you’re reading this and ruefully thinking that your sleep habits need an upgrade, you certainly are not alone. And there’s hope — you just have to adjust your routine a bit. Aside from the old stand-bys of exercising, avoiding stress and eating a healthy diet, what else promotes great sleep hygiene? Experts have repeatedly suggested that sticking to a certain “wind-down” routine each night can really help.
Most of us have different things going on each night of the week — kids’ activities, drinks with the neighbors, a late movie we stay up for. However, developing a sleep ritual an hour or so before bed can make a lot of difference. Here are the key pointers.
Start the routine around the same time nightly, and honor it.
If your sleep routine starts at 9 p.m. during the week but then not until midnight on the weekends, it’s not going to do you much good. Instead, it’s better to think about your typical bedtime and “average out” when to start your routine so it’s ballparked around the same time. Abstaining from alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and social stimulation as bedtime creeps closer can help as well. For example, if you aim to go to bed at 11 p.m. and want to start a ritual at 10 p.m., try not to have any other alcohol after your happy hour cocktail.
Shut off the blue light at least an hour before bed.
You probably have heard that the blue light from your computer or your phone makes falling asleep difficult because it actually tells your brain that it’s not time to go to bed! While phones come with a blue light filter, it’s far better to simply put your social media away for the evening and concentrate on reading something in print, such a book or magazine.
Do night hygiene rituals, like brushing your teeth.
Another way to let your body and mind know that sleep is coming is to prep for bedtime a little while in advance by brushing your teeth, washing your face or even bathing in warm water so your body temperature cools afterward.
Have a soothing, warm drink plus a small snack.
A snack and a warm drink before bed can help keep hunger pangs at bay during the night. Try slices of turkey, a piece of cheese, peanut butter and celery or something else easy to digest and not spicy or heavy. For a warm drink, try hot tea with herbs.
Listen to a podcast or meditation.
If you’re struggling to wind down, a storytelling or meditation podcast can help. Note that listening to politics, news or celebrity gossip is not the key here — you want something soothing and even a bit dull to lull your brain into a more relaxed state. Deep breathing is also helpful as you listen.
Written by: Denise K. James