Every night, millions of Americans toss and turn in a futile quest to get a good night’s sleep.
Statistics show that as many as 60 million of us fail to get the full eight hours health experts recommend, due to stress, diet, our sedentary lifestyles and perhaps the two biggest culprits: TV and social media.
Because so many people have difficulty sleeping, the science of sleep disorders is a growing field of research and study. According to the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research, 40 percent of Americans experience bouts with insomnia.
But capturing a good night’s rest isn’t just about what you should do, but rather what you shouldn’t.
For instance, avoid snacking right before bed. An estimated one-third of Americans suffer from some form of indigestion.
Nicotine, caffeine and sugar are all villains that can rob us of a full rest.
Drinking alcohol before sleep might seem like a natural solution, but it deprives the body of REM sleep, the deep-state form of sleep we need in order to be fully rested. A consistent lack of REM sleep can lead to health problems and can impair our cognitive abilities.
Limiting the consumption of other kinds of liquids to earlier in the evening can help reduce the need for bathroom breaks during the night.
Other obstacles include depression, medications, anxiety, anger and chronic pain and illness.
However, some things can’t be helped. For instance, aging or menopause can bring changes in sleeping patterns.
Good sleep requires as few distractions as possible, which is why it’s hard to fall sleep with the lights or TV on. A dark, quiet, cool room is the best-case scenario for falling—and staying—asleep.
Sleep can be aided by exercise, which helps metabolism and helps reduce inflammation, which can interfere with rest. In a study published by Sleep Medicine, insomniacs who did 16 weeks of aerobic exercise slept an average of 75 minutes longer than they did without exercise.
It also helps to establish a consistent bedtime and sleep-preparation routine. For example, the light that emits from the screens of electronic devices interrupts the production of melatonin—a natural hormone that the body produces, which helps us to relax.
Researchers at Northwestern University also have found that the more exposure you have to melatonin during the day, the better off you’ll be when you turn in for the night. The best source for melatonin is natural light. It also can be found in some foods.
Because it is not recognized as a drug, synthetic melatonin also is produced commercially, and can be purchased over the counter.
Melatonin does its best work in darkness. The higher the levels that are released in the body, the more able a person can sleep.
However, care must be used in consuming melatonin. Its misuse can disrupt the body’s natural clock.
#1 Twelve percent of people dream in black and white.
#2 Newborns sleep an average of 14 to 17 hours a day.
#3 An estimated 15 percent of us are sleepwalkers. It also is a myth that awakening sleepwalkers is harmful.
#4 Fifty percent of what you dream is forgotten within five minutes of waking up.
#5 Snoring is the main cause of sleep disruption for approximately 90 million American adults; 37 million on a regular basis.
#6 Working swing shifts is a health hazard; the body never adjusts to it.
#7 Humans are the only mammals that willingly delay sleep.
#8 A lack of sleep is more deadly than a lack of food.
#9 The study of how and why we dream is called oneirology.
#10 The feeling of falling during sleep, which causes you to suddenly wake, is called a hypnic jerk.
Sources: Chris Thomson, Sleep Matters Club; National Sleep Foundation