It is estimated that over 40 million Americans suffer from some sort of chronic sleep disorder and almost 90% of those are unidentified or undiagnosed! That’s a considerable number of folks exposing themselves to bad infomercials at 2 AM. I must admit that I traditionally related sleep disorders to older people and shift workers, but a recent study from the National Sleep Foundation indicates that almost 36% of 18-29 year olds have a sleep issue that disrupts their life. In a time of budgetary restraints and fiscal precariousness, sleep problems have been estimated to cause 16-20 billion dollars of economic losses to business and industry. We don’t often associate sleep problems with other major population health risks such as heart disease and diabetes, yet sleep disorders are every bit as important to the health of the nation as other maladies. Women are particularly hard hit as 79% report sleep disturbances during pregnancy, 36% report sleep problems in the peri-menopause and menopause time periods, and 24% say sleep problems interfere with them caring for their family.
Sleep deprivation can lead to chronic tiredness, moodiness, frustration, difficulty in controlling emotions, inability to concentrate adequately, and problems with abstract thought. In other words, sleep deprived individuals are generally not happy folks! There is good evidence that a lack of adequate sleep can lead to an impairment in immune function, metabolic problems, weight gain, and hypertension. The National Highway Safety Administration has said, “Drowsiness has been the cause of 100,000 traffic crashes every year, killing more than 1500 Americans and injuring another 71,000.” Some physicians believe sleep disorders are the most unrecognized common malady we face today.
The average adult needs about 7 1/2 to 8 hours of sleep a day to feel rested and allow the body to rebuild, refresh, and rejuvenate. Obviously this number is a generalization as some individuals require less and some more, so it is vital to determine honestly your threshold. In general, older adults require a bit less sleep to avoid problems; however, it is not as dramatic difference as some would imagine. A common yet often missed cause of sleep problems are various medicines and drugs. Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, steroids, decongestants, antidepressants, and blood pressure medicines are just a few of the ingested substances that can keep you awake.
Healthy sleeping habits for the family
- Fix a bedtime and fix an awakening time
- Avoid napping during the day
- Avoid alcohol before bed
- Avoid caffeine containing beverages 4 – 6 hours before bedtime
- Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods before bed
- Regular exercise is good but not before bedtime
- Comfortable bedding
- Bedroom cool, dark, quiet
- Bedroom reserved for sleep – NOT a work room
- Go to bed only when sleepy
- If unable to sleep, move to another room
- Return to bed only when sleepy
- Avoid a visible bedroom clock with a lighted dial
- Don’t let yourself repeatedly check the time!
- Turn the clock around or put it under the bed
There are a few herbal medicines that have been minimally helpful in promoting sleep for some people. These include Valerian root, Kava, Chamomile, and in older individuals-melatonin. The worst thing to do is nothing…sleep problems rarely spontaneously resolve. Don’t ignore the issue and take steps to a more restful sleep today.