How well you sleep can be affected by many factors, such as stress, diet, exercise, biology and your sleeping environment. Alcohol, coffee or travelling across time zones can also interrupt sleep cycles. For some people, the fear of sleeplessness itself can keep them awake, a condition known as psychophysiologic insomnia. And the list goes on. The National Sleep Foundation approximates that more than 60% of adults experience a sleep problem several times per week.
How much sleep do you actually need? In general, most healthy adults need an average of 7-8 hours of sleep a night to function optimally during the day without feeling tired. However, many individuals are able to function just fine on as little as 6 hours of sleep a night. So the number of hours of sleep you need varies from person to person. You can tell you’ve slept enough on days where you feel alert and awake throughout the day.
Not being able to get enough sleep can have many adverse consequences, such as daytime sleepiness, poor decision-making abilities, low work performance, impaired working memory, learning difficulties and accidents. Insomnia, or the inability to sleep, can also contribute to or exacerbate various health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. It can also lead to weight gain and depression.
On the other hand, a good night’s sleep can elevate your energy levels, increase your productivity and help you lead a more joyful life. In fact, in this rousing four-minute talk, Ariana Huffington of The Huffington Post describes the key to success as getting more sleep:
So, what are some of the things that you can do if you are experiencing sleeplessness? The American Psychological Association compiled the following list:
– Try going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day
– Develop a consistent bed time routine that will tell your body that it’s time to sleep (e.g. dim the lights a few minutes before bedtime each night)
– Reduce your intake of caffeine and have your last coffee 4-6 hours before bedtime
– Avoid smoking, especially around bedtime
– Avoid alcohol and heavy meals around bedtime
– Exercise regularly
– Make your bedroom comfortable for yourself (not too bright, noisy, hot or cold)
– Avoid napping. If you must nap, take power naps to combat daytime sleepiness, but keep them short at ~20 minutes
If you’re getting worried about your insomnia, you can speak with your physician about cognitive behavioral therapy. This technique involves teaching patients to identify and change their patterns of thought and behavior, and it has been found to be effective in reducing insomnia.
Here’s a great resource to use to learn more about insomnia, its symptoms and causes as well as some techniques to deal with it: www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/cant-sleep-insomnia-treatment.htm.