Sleep problems, a health epidemic

Sleep problems have become more and more common in the last decade. CDC (Center for Disease Control) has declared sleep problems a health epidemic. Insomnia is affecting 50 to 70 million Americans with a trend showing the numbers will increase.

Sleep’s effect on aging

Research shows that sleep deprived individuals have a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. If you are thinking about Alzheimer’s prevention, think sleep again. A recent study concluded that the brain clears harmful proteins between cells, which is shown to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The author of the study made an analogy to a house party. As a host, you can either clean or entertain your guests, you can’t really do both well. The brain is the same, either awake and working, or asleep and cleaning up.

In our society, longevity is not the issue, but the quality of your life. How can you live your life in the most enjoyable way and live free of emotional and physical pain? Paying attention and see what works for you may be the solution.

What can we do to improve our sleep?

Here are 5 things to remember when suffering of insomnia or simply trying to improve the quality of your sleep.

  • Wind down in the evening to give your nervous system a much needed break. Allow 45 to 60 minutes at the very least to start slowing down all activities and stimulations after 7pm.
  • Take notice of how you feel in the evening and watch for that perfect moment of sleepiness. If you allow enough time to wind down, it some point you will feel at least some mild grogginess. If you push through it, a second wind will make it much harder to fall asleep.
  • Avoid the temptation to keep glancing at the time each time you wake up at night. Instead, set the alarm clock for the morning so then you won’t wonder what time it is and worry it might be morning. Then, have a podcast ready to play. It can be a meditation or something random to take your mind away, such as the podcast “Sleep with me”. Or it can be a favorite CD that we can play, or even the radio, to help your mind relax.
  • Take a nap every day, or if you can’t fall asleep, lay down for 30 minutes. Use a timer and allow yourself to rest between noon and 3pm. When already sleep deprived, the brain doesn’t have enough energy to fall asleep and stay asleep. The naps can provide the extra rest that is needed.
  • Avoid caffeine past noon and have your alcoholic drink earlier in the evening so it can completely clear out of your system. The best way to test of either caffeine or alcohol affects your sleep is by eliminating them for 2 weeks and then reintroducing them. Chart your sleep over a few weeks and notice if it affects your sleep.

How you feel more important than amount of hours you slept

Little changes can make a big improvement in your sleep pattern if you stick with it. A good way of tracking the results of your efforts is by keeping a sleep journal over one month. Most people learn from their journals and are able to create better habits. Sleep is important but the most important part is how you feel during the day. If you have great energy and your mood is good, then you are most likely getting enough sleep no matter how many hours of sleep you got.