In This Article:
- Overview: The State of Sleep in the US
- Common Sleep Myths
- The Numbers: What Causes People to Lose Sleep?
- Demographic Groups and Sleep
- Outcomes Of Sleep Deprivation
- Fad or Fact: The Science of Today’s Sleep Trends
The State of Sleep in the U.S.
“Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” – Thomas Dekker
We may experience sleep in different ways, but one thing remains certain: all mammals, including humans, need sleep. There’s nothing like the feeling of waking up incredibly well-rested. And while sleep helps you start your day off on the right foot, it’s meant to do so much more for your physical and mental health. Sleep is a necessary physiological function, not unlike eating, drinking, and breathing. During sleep, your brain does some pretty amazing things! It rids itself of toxic waste, stores new information, communicates and reorganizes nerve cells, and perhaps the most noticeable to the sleeper, it repairs cells and restores energy.
If sleep is so important that it is necessary for survival, why is getting enough sleep such a struggle? Among many other reasons, we found that the primary explanations for insufficient sleep were stress (47.1%), bad mattress (49.1%), and discomfort (48%). Even though the CDC recommends seven to nine hours of sleep a night for adults, 49.4% of people report getting that much sleep less than half of each week, and a whopping 29.4% of people report never getting seven to nine hours of sleep at night.
This data is also correlated, to some extent, with geographic location. For example, the CDC reports that in the majority of the state of Kentucky, anywhere from 36.7% to 59.8% of people over the age of 18 get less than seven hours of sleep per night. But in Iowa, the majority of the state reports only 24.3% to 30.8% of people over the age of 18 get less than seven hours of sleep per night.
It’s safe to say, American’s aren’t getting enough sleep despite potentially devastating repercussions. But, why? We think it’s important to distinguish fact from fiction when it comes to sleep. First, let’s talk about some of the fiction or myths you might have heard, and then we’ll delve into the facts.
Common Sleep Myths
Myth: Drinking alcohol helps to improve sleep
This is a myth many people believe because alcohol can, in fact, help people fall asleep quicker. But don’t run out and buy a bottle of wine for a nightcap just yet! Consuming alcohol before bed actually reduces REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is the stage of sleep thought to provide much-needed restoration. If you’ve ever woken up from a night’s sleep and felt drowsiness or poor concentration throughout the day, it’s quite possible you did not get enough REM sleep. Drinking alcohol before bed will not improve your sleep quality.
Myth: Getting five hours of sleep a night is plenty
Think again! Studies show that the body’s ability to function declines without sleep in the seven to eight-hour range.
Myth: If you can’t sleep, stay in bed until you fall asleep
Have you ever tossed and turned endlessly, counted sheep, stared at the ceiling, and anything else you could think of to try and fall asleep? We’ve all been there. At some point, it makes sense to get up and then try again later. This way, your brain always correlates the bedroom environment with sleep, which will make your day to day falling asleep experience more efficient. If you do get up, focus your attention on relaxing activities like reading, listening to music, meditating, or other relaxation techniques. Then, try going back to bed.
The Numbers: What Causes People to Lose Sleep?
Sometimes resolving sleeplessness isn’t quite as simple as avoiding alcohol or getting up for a while and practicing a relaxing activity. For some, there are factors that make sleeplessness a relentless reality. Let’s talk about a variety of conditions and factors that may be keeping you or someone you love from restful sleep.
The Mayo Clinic describes sleep apnea as a potentially serious disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. There are three main types of sleep apnea including obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea syndrome. It is necessary to see a doctor to be properly diagnosed with sleep apnea. However, there are some things you can watch out for, like, loud snoring, awakening to a dry mouth and headache, insomnia, lack of focus, irritability, and finally, a tell-tell sign is if someone tells you that they noticed you stopped breathing at times during sleep. The sleep apnea statistics are shocking:
- Sleep apnea occurs in around 25% of men and nearly 10% of women
- These people are at higher risk for car crashes, work-related accidents, and other medical problems. In other words, more people suffer from sleep apnea than from diabetes.
- Sleep apnea is quite common in people with type 2 diabetes. In fact, 80% of people with type 2 diabetes may have obstructive sleep apnea.
While we do not know that one condition causes the other, we do know that obesity raises a person’s risk factor for both conditions. We also know that sleeplessness can keep your body from using insulin properly, which can lead to diabetes.
If you have reason to believe you may have sleep apnea, it is important to see a doctor and seek proper treatment.
RLS is also known as restless legs syndrome and may be caused by abnormalities in the brain’s production of the neurotransmitter, dopamine. People with RLS often experience a “creeping” sensation in the lower legs, and aches and pains throughout the legs. So, what does that have to do with sleep? The sensations occurring from RLS are often heightened when the legs are still and are relieved when the legs are moving. Needless to say, it can be difficult to fall asleep if being still is unpleasant or painful.
- Because of the wide range of symptom experience, the prevalence of RLS is not fully known, though studies suggest it can range anywhere from 1.9% to 15% of the population.
- We do know that the prevalence of RLS is higher in women than in men and that there is an increasing prevalence with age.
- In age brackets from below 30, to ages 30-79, to ages over 80, the prevalence of RLS climbs from 3% to 19%.
While not all people who suffer from RLS have these underlying conditions, it is important to note that in many studies, people with conditions like cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, heart problems, and high BMA were twice as likely to have RLS than those without those conditions. As we described previously, the nature of RLS symptoms can make it difficult to achieve a full night’s rest without interruptions. It is no surprise that there is a distinct association between RLS and insomnia. Studies show that people with RLS are two to three times more likely to report DIS (Difficulty Initiating Sleep), DMS (Difficult Maintaining Sleep), and NRS (Non-restorative Sleep) than non-RLS subjects.
Fibromyalgia is a musculoskeletal condition that is not easily explained or easily treated. Some scientists believe it is related to heightened activity of the central nervous system or in other words, how the brain processes information about pain. Because much is still unknown about fibromyalgia, it can be difficult to diagnose and may be confused with other conditions like hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.
- It is believed that somewhere between .7 to 4.8 percent of the population, predominantly women, suffer from fibromyalgia.
- Women are twice as likely to have fibromyalgia as men, and 90% of people with the condition are women.
- In a survey of fibromyalgia patients, a staggering 67.5% said they rarely slept well.
Is it the pain that is causing the lack of sleep, the lack of sleep that is causing the pain, or a vicious cycle both? While we suspect it is a combination of both, we do know that lack of or poor sleep has been shown to “decrease both pain thresholds and cognitive skills in pain management.” In other words, poor sleep is highly detrimental because it makes it physically and cognitively more difficult to deal with the pain often experienced by fibromyalgia patients.
What does it mean to be overweight or obese? According to the CDC, a person is considered overweight when their weight is higher than what is considered healthy for a given height, as established by the Body Mass Index (BMI). Being overweight also has a detrimental effect on sleep quality. And on the flip side of that coin, poor sleep quality can have a detrimental effect on weight.
- Being overweight or obese is associated with an increase in disease, like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, and a decrease in mental health and quality of life
- Studies show that the likelihood of obesity is higher for those getting less than six hours per night of sleep
- Infants and children who sleep fewer hours are more likely to be obese later in life
Sleep deprivation changes the way the body reacts to and processes glucose. Studies show people getting less sleep have reduced glucose tolerance, reduced glucose effectiveness, and acute insulin response to glucose. Reduced glucose control in the body can contribute to obesity.
There is speculation by researchers that ineffective sleep or sleep deprivation may increase hunger and/or decrease the energy that they burn. One study showed that young men who were deprived of sleep produced higher levels of ghrelin, the appetite-stimulating hormone, and lower levels of leptin, the satiety-inducing hormone. To put it more simply, sleep deprivation caused those people to be hungry more often and not feel full as quickly which may result in overeating and obesity.
If you’ve ever been super tired or sleep-deprived, you can probably relate when we say that lack of sleep can also result in less physical activity, along with not making the best food choices. When you’re exhausted, grabbing something easy, on-the-go seems more doable than making a healthy meal. Sticking to an exercise routine can also be more challenging when you are tired and not getting enough sleep. Poor food choices and a decrease in physical activity can lead to obesity.
This is also a relevant issue for people who work swing shifts or rotate day and night shifts. When our sleep schedules are not consistent, especially when it comes to the time of day and daylight present, our circadian rhythm is affected and may increase the likelihood of obesity.
As Dr. Kevin Fontaine, Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University put it, “There’s a reciprocal relationship between pain and poor sleep.” In other words, people with more pain generally sleep less, and people who sleep less generally have more pain.
There are different types of joint pain and it is important to understand the differences. Some joint pain is called arthralgia and it is defined as joint stiffness. Joint pain defined as inflammation of a joint is called arthritis. Both may include pain and swelling, but arthritis is most likely to include things like swelling, joint deformation, loss of bone and cartilage, and intense pain.
While rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis, the cause behind it, and the more common arthritis, called osteoarthritis (OA), is quite different. OA is caused when the cartilage between your joints deteriorates. RA is an autoimmune disease where your immune system sees your joints as “enemies” in your body and as a result, attacks them.
- Only 20% of RA patients report getting good sleep
- The reports of sleep disturbance in people with RA are two to three times as high as the rest of the population
- 31% of arthritis patients report difficulty falling asleep and a towering 81% of them report difficulty staying asleep
While some types of joint pain like arthritis may cause more difficulty sleeping than others, it is safe to say that all joint pain can have a negative effect on sleep quality. If that’s the case for you, it’s important to have your joint pain properly diagnosed and treated by a medical professional.
Emotional trauma occurs when unusually stressful events create a sense of fear, helplessness, and insecurity. Even when there is no physical harm involved, emotional trauma can be present and very powerful. Emotional trauma can occur at any point in life, during childhood or adulthood. For some, the trauma is so intense that it results in PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that can occur immediately or even weeks or years down the road.
If you or someone you love have ever encountered emotional trauma and potentially PTSD as a result, you’re probably familiar with the fact that it often disrupts normal sleeping patterns. For some people, this means an increased amount of sleep. Though, for others, it means a decrease in sleep or no sleep at all.
- A study of Vietnam veterans with PTSD showed that 44% of them said they had difficulty falling asleep at night. In the same study, only 9% of Vietnam veterans without PTSD said they had difficulty falling asleep.
- In another compelling study, 70-91% of PTSD patients reported difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, and 19 to 71% reported sleep disturbances from nightmares.
Part of this significance comes from the fact that PTSD symptoms may be worse at night, when silence may cause uneasiness. When trying to sleep, people with emotional trauma or PTSD may experience things like nightmares, flashbacks, increased movement, sleep talking, and feeling anxious and on edge.
But here is where the topic gets tricky. We need to sleep after emotional trauma in order to heal and potentially avoid long term issues, like PTSD. One study concluded that “sleep may have a protective effect on the aftermath of traumatic experiences.” Another study further validated those results by assessing the quantity and quality of REM sleep after a traumatic event. They concluded a correlation between REM sleep after trauma and the presence of PTSD symptoms later on.
It is clear that while emotional trauma can have a negative effect on sleep, it is profoundly important to get a good night’s sleep in order to cope, heal, and potentially avoid long term effects, like PTSD. If you or someone you love have experienced emotional trauma and are having difficulty sleeping, it is important to see a medical professional.
Thankfully, over the past several years, there has been an increase in social awareness surrounding mental health and its different effects. According to MentalHealth.gov,
“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.”MentalHealth.gov
Issues related to mental health like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, dissociative disorders and more can be complicated because we can’t see them like we can physical issues. And there isn’t always a distinct cause as there is with emotional trauma or PTSD.
Just as with anything that gets our normal health and wellness off-balance, poor mental health can cause a big issue with…yes, you guessed it, sleep!
Nearly 50% of insomnia cases reported are associated with anxiety, depression, or psychological stress. But, which comes first, insomnia, or mental health issues?
There is reason to believe that for some people, the mental health problem comes first, and then insomnia follows. In other words, sleep deprivation may actually cause mental health problems. The sleep and mental health statistics are shocking:
- Sleep deprivation is scientifically proven to affect an individual’s psychological state and mental health
- Depressed patients who aren’t getting adequate sleep are less likely to respond favorably to treatment than those who get adequate sleep.
- The Office of Women’s Health reports that people with insomnia are 10 times more likely to have depression, and 17 times more likely to have anxiety.
- 65% to 90% of adults with major depression experience some kind of sleep problem.
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of prescriptions filled per week for antidepressant, anti-anxiety, and anti-insomnia medications increased by 21%.
While there are many things that improve with age, sleep is unfortunately not one of them. The quality of our sleep changes as we age and there are a wide variety of factors that may cause seniors to struggle with adequate sleep.
With aging, less time is spent in restorative REM sleep. A lack of REM sleep can result in feeling less rested and energized the following day. Additionally, because older people spend less time in deep sleep, they also tend to wake up more frequently. Older people wake up an average of three to four times each night due to light sleeping, need to urinate, anxiety, discomfort, or pain. Studies suggest that from mid-life until the eighth decade, total sleep time decreased on average by 27 minutes per decade. That means if at age 50 a person sleeps eight hours per night, by age 80 they will sleep around six and a half hours per night.
While there are many reasons an older person may have difficulty sleeping, disruptions in the circadian rhythm also have a big impact on the sleep-wake cycle. The two most influential external cues that help keep the circadian rhythm in check are light and melatonin. With aging comes a gradual reduction of melatonin production. Additionally, studies show that elderly patients (especially those institutionalized) spend too little time in daylight. “Light is one of the most powerful zeitgebers (literally “time-giver” or cues.)” The reduction of exposure to daylight may cause disruptions to the circadian rhythm and therefore, disruptions to sleep.
If you are a woman or live with one, it probably goes without saying that any major hormonal changes can wreak havoc on good night’s sleep. One of the major hormonal changes that may occur is menopause. For around half of a woman’s life, her ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone. When menopause happens in the late ’40s or ’50s, her ovaries stop producing those hormones and as a result, she stops menstruating. Aside from this obvious end to a woman’s reproductive years, menopause can lead to sleep problems.
- 40 to 56% of women in the menopausal transition and postmenopause report sleep difficulties.
- 47% to 67% of postmenopausal women are reported to suffer from OSA.
- Studies show that women with moderate-to-severe hot flashes are almost three times more likely to report waking up frequently during sleep than women without hot flashes.
There are a few main reasons menopause can have a detrimental effect on sleep. One of the most recognized symptoms of menopause, in up to 80% of women, is hot flashes. The sudden changes in hormones can cause women going through menopause to experience sudden feelings of being hot and even sweaty. In some women, hot flashes can last an average of 7.4 years and are a true disruptor of quality rest.
In addition to hot flashes, menopausal women often experience things like weight gain, RLS (restless leg syndrome), periodic leg movement syndrome, and obstructive sleep apnea. Weight gain after menopause may contribute to significantly increased levels of obstructive sleep apnea in women.
Sorry ladies, but data shows that women may be more likely than men to have insomnia. In addition to menopause, women experience a variety of unique hormonal changes throughout life that can contribute to insomnia.
- 25% of US women experience insomnia symptoms, compared to 20% of men
- Other health problems that cause secondary insomnia are to be more prevalent in women, like depression, anxiety, and Fibromyalgia
- Many women report sleep disruption in the days leading up to their period, during pregnancy, and then again during perimenopause leading up to menopause
While women may win the insomnia challenge, sociological factors also play a role in gender differences in sleep. These may be things like work and family roles, restricted exercise time, and more. Paid work tends to increase for men when they form relationships and/or become parents, which may leave them less time to sleep. To put it another way, studies show that men and women value sleep differently. Men often understand sleep as an “unfortunate necessity” while women are more likely to consider and attend to health knowledge (including sleep recommendations) in general.
We’ve all probably heard it said that when you decide to have children, you are giving up sleep for at least 18 years. While it may or may not be quite that extreme, parenthood definitely has an impact on sleep. This is especially true in the first one to six years of the child’s life but is typically more intense in the first three months.
“On average, each new parent loses a staggering 109 minutes of sleep every night for the first year after having a baby.” The lost sleep may be a result of getting up two to three times each night, for 20 minutes or longer each time for things like feedings, diaper changes, and soothing a crying baby. If you are breastfeeding, you may get to enjoy an average of 40 to 45 more minutes of sleep than parents who are formula feeding. That might not sound like a lot, but when you are already losing 109 meetings of sleep every night, that extra 40 to 45 minutes can go a long way.
While both men and women have their sleep patterns affected by a new baby, one study showed that working fathers experience less sleep disruption than non-working fathers. This could be in part due to mothers protecting the sleep of the working father or in around 15% of cases, working fathers slept in a separate room to ensure sufficient sleep for work the next day.
College is an exciting time in a young person’s life, and it comes with many big changes all at once. Suddenly, you go from living with your family under regular supervision and attending a structured high school each day to living without parental supervision and often with a roommate you don’t know. For most, it requires an adjustment period that can sometimes be difficult. While we can’t say for sure which comes first, it is certainly possible that the prevalent issues of depression, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed may be in part, due to lack of proper sleep. The college students statistics paint a concerning picture:
- Studies show that 44% of college students experience symptoms of depression, 50% struggle with anxiety, and 80% feel overwhelmed by academic responsibility.
- 36% of young adults get less than seven hours of sleep per night and 14% average less than six hours per night.
- For the many college students skipping sleep, two weeks of getting 6 hours or less per night have students feeling and performing like they had gone without sleep for 48 hours
You might have heard the myth that young people don’t need as much sleep as older adults. However, experts recommend seven to nine hours of sleep for young adults, just like they do older adults. Proper sleep is a critical part of the health, well-being, and success of all people, including young adults.
Work and Sleep
Are you trading sleep for work? Studies show that many people are. More than one-third of Americans report getting less than seven hours of sleep during the week. That leaves them exhausted by the weekend and sleeping longer hours in an attempt to catch up. Whether you’re burning the midnight oil on a project with a fast-approaching deadline or laying in bed thinking about how to solve a work-related problem, you are not doing yourself or your work any favors. In addition to fatigue, poor concentration, and lack of focus, sleep deprivation or insufficient sleep is closely tied with obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and an increased risk of fatal automobile accidents.
- Work is reported as the activity most likely to compete with sleep, followed by commuting to and from work.
- Around half of all CEOs get less than six hours of sleep per night. Startup founders get even less. That leads us to conclude that work roles have a distinctive impact on sleep health.
- Shift workers are more likely to have negative effects on sleep, physiological sleepiness, and accident risk
Those who do shift work may also see a negative impact on sleep. As we’ve talked about previously, shift work can have an effect on circadian rhythms and when the circadian rhythm gets out of whack, so does sleep. This study discovered that shift workers are more likely to have negative effects on sleep, subjective and physiological sleepiness, performance, and accident risk. They are also at increased risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.
In the American Time Use Survey in 2018, the Labor Department discovered that women are spending more time working, in addition to caring for their families and doing housework or jobs around the house. As a result, they are spending less time enjoying life, leisure time, or even sleep.
Teenage Sleep Deprivation
Have you been struggling with behavioral and/or performance issues from your adolescent child? While there may be many reasons for these issues, first ask yourself if your child is getting proper sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine sat some guidelines to help you out. Children 6 to 12 years old should regularly sleep 9 to 12 hours every 24 hours. Teenagers aged 13 to 18 should sleep 8 to 10 hours in 24 hours.
- Data shows that 57% of middle school students and 72.7% of high school students do not get enough sleep on school nights
- A study of 28,000 high school students showed that each hour of sleep lost per night was associated with a 38% increase in feeling sad or hopeless, and an increase in strong depression symptoms. Even scarier, the lost sleep was associated with a 58% increase in suicide attempts.
- Another study shows that teens who get less than 5 hours of sleep a night have an increased risk for obesity, drunk driving, weapon carrying, fighting, contemplated suicide, smoking, alcohol use, binge drinking, marijuana use, sexual risk-taking, and texting while driving.
It may seem like teens just don’t want to sleep! But the data shows that when given ten hours of sleep-opportunity, they slept an average of 9.25 hours. This may be a time when their minds say one thing, but their bodies and health say something much different. It is critical to their growth and success that children get adequate sleep.
Sleep Deprivation Statistics & Outcomes
We’ve talked about how lack of sleep has many different outcomes on us mentally, physically, and emotionally. There is no shortage of ways that sleep deprivation negatively affects us. Here are a few of the most common and arguably, most detrimental.
While it doesn’t mean that sleep deprivation will definitely lead to an early death, the risk of early death increases as a result of sleep deprivation. In addition to the increased risk for diseases that can ultimately affect life expectancy, a 2014 study showed that people getting even six hours of sleep per night had a 33% higher chance of having a car crash. In another study, it was found that people who slept less than seven hours per night had a 24% higher risk for death.
Hypertension (or high blood pressure) can be an effect of sleep deprivation. This is especially tied to individuals who are not getting enough sleep and under pressure or stress in their lives. Let’s face it, we’ve all had a stressful day followed by a sleepless night followed by another stressful day. Studies show that when participants were fatigued and put in stressful situations, their systolic blood pressures climbed about 10 points higher than when they did the same task well-rested. Hypertension caused by poor sleep is one way that sleep deprivation can lead to cardiovascular disease.
We’ve talked some about individuals with sleep apnea having an increased rate of type 2 diabetes. Research points to the fact that it isn’t the sleep apnea itself causing diabetes, but the poor sleep quality associated with sleep apnea. Your A1c is a marker of blood sugar control. Even without a condition like sleep apnea, research shows that sleep duration and quality are predictors of A1c levels and that improving those two predictors can improve A1c levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
Insufficient sleep may cause you to gain weight. There is a direct connection between sleep and the brain’s regulation of energy expenditure and appetite. Essentially, without proper sleep, your metabolism will not function properly. This may result in increased hunger, less energy expenditure, and then the inevitable weight gain. Of course, it doesn’t mean that people who get sufficient sleep will be in great physical shape, especially if they make poor food and exercise choices. However, it does mean their metabolism will function more optimally.
Weight gain can eventually lead to obesity and with obesity, comes an increased risk for many other diseases and conditions.
Fad or Fact: The Science of Today’s Sleep Trends
If you’ve heard much about CBD, or cannabidiol, you are likely familiar with its many reported uses. One of those uses is for sleep improvement. Your body has what is called an endocannabinoid system, which plays a part in regulating things like mood, appetite, memory, reproductive, fertility, and yes, sleep. CBD is a cannabinoid that many experts believe prevents endocannabinoids from breaking down and thus, improves the regulation of the endocannabinoid system. CBD can be consumed in liquid form through oils and tinctures, inhaled through vaping, taken in pill or capsule form, or eaten in edibles like gummies.
The verdict is still out on CBD’s success in sleep improvement. In this non-controlled study of 72 adults who reported sleep or anxiety issues, 66.7% of patients had improved sleep scores within the first month after using CBD. However, since this was a naturalistic study and lacked a comparison group, the results should be “interpreted cautiously.”
That does not mean CBD does not improve sleep, it just means controlled clinical studies are needed to validate that claim.
If you’re going to give CBD a try for sleep improvement, speak with your doctor first if you are on other medications.
The cool thing about melatonin is that your brain produces it all on its own. A couple of hours before bedtime, melatonin levels rise and put you into a quiet state that helps to promote sleep. Melatonin doesn’t cause sleep, it only creates an optimal situation in your body to promote sleep. If your environment doesn’t reflect that, that melatonin your body has produced may go to waste. Also, melatonin levels decrease naturally as we age.
When you can’t create the optimal sleep situation, like if you have jet lag, an altered sleep schedule, or your body isn’t producing enough melatonin anymore, supplementation may help increase total sleep time, reset the body’s sleep-wake cycle, and reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
In this study, multiple controlled trials for melatonin effectiveness were assessed. It was determined that 83% of those were high quality and out of those, five showed results in favor of melatonin effects on sleep.
Since your body produces melatonin on its own, will supplementing cause your brain to produce less and result in tolerance or dependency? According to this study, no. In addition to low reported side effects, there is limited evidence of habituation and tolerance.
Blue Light Correcting
Is it possible to trick your circadian rhythm into thinking it’s time for sleep by wearing blue light blocking glasses? Daylight and darkness are triggers for your body’s natural time clock (circadian rhythm). Blue light, that we are exposed to so frequently on televisions, laptops, mobile devices, and more causes your brain to sense daylight and therefore, suppress melatonin production. These blue light glasses reportedly “stimulate sensors in your eyes to send signals to your brain’s internal clock.” In other words, they block our perception of blue light.
But do they work? According to this study where the effects of blue light exposure were compared to green light exposure, the blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light. It also shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much. In another study, one group’s sleep habits with the use of amber (blue-blocking) lenses while the control group’s sleep was assessed without blue blocking. The group using the blue-blocking lenses experienced significant improvement in sleep quality.
Blue light blocking glasses are not FDA regulated, but can be purchased by anyone who wants to try them. Some users report less eye strain during their computer and phone use while using them, while others use them primarily for their sleep time rituals.
Aromatherapy is “a holistic healing treatment that uses natural plant extracts to promote health and well-being.” This practice dates back thousands of years. One of the many uses of aromatherapy is for sleep improvement. Particularly relevant to sleep, the use of lavender essential oil has been proven to increase sleep quality and reduce anxiety in patients with coronary artery disease. Some people use essential oils like lavender in oil diffusers in their bedrooms or in lotion or oil form on the skin. There are also other methods of use like room sprays, inhalers, bathing salts, facial steamers, and more.
Using specific points in the body, acupuncture may provide “analgesic and sedating effects.” This involves inserting tiny, thin needles into the skin at these very specific points on the body. Another practice dating back thousands of years, acupuncture is a commonly used Chinese medicine. The analgesic and sedating effects this practice can bring may result in improved sleep quality.
Though the quality of the trials is limited and further trials are needed, this study shows acupuncture as superior to medications with increased total sleep duration and even improvement in sleep duration for those taking medications and acupuncture together. It is, therefore, believed that acupuncture can improve sleep quality and sleep duration.
Based on the same principles as acupuncture, acupressure has also been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine. As opposed to inserting tiny needles, acupressure operates under the premise that when important channels in the body are blocked that carry energy, pressure to specific points along those channels can help to restore homeostasis. This can be used for many things, but in this case, specifically for blocked channels that may be disrupting sleep.
In one study of nursing home residents, acupressure resulted in significant improvement in sleep quality over the control group. The acupressure group also had lower psychological distress levels than the control group. As a result, it is believed that good acupressure can improve sleep quality and reduce psychological distress. More studies are needed to determine long term effects.
So, what can you do to achieve better sleep aside from what we’ve already discussed?
One of the most important things you can do is create the right environment for sleep. Your bedroom should be a quiet, dark, safe, and comfortable space. Make sure there are no bright lights or blue lights in the bedroom. Remove televisions from the bedroom, keep them covered, or at the very least, keep them powered off at night. You should also keep the temperature cool and comfortable to promote a better night’s sleep.
Make sure you are sleeping on a mattress that is right for your body. A mattress that is not suitable can result in consistent poor sleep and ultimately, sleep deprivation. It is recommended that you replace your mattress before the warranty is up (usually around 10 years). However, 27.8% of people sleep on a mattress that is older than 10 years. If your mattress is older than 10 years or if you’re experiencing constant discomfort during sleep, it is time to get a new mattress and improve your sleep quality and health!
While there are many sleep treatments available, you may be able to save some time and money by implementing good sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene is basically just good habits you can practice to promote healthy sleep. It may include things we mentioned above, like making sure your bedroom environment is perfect for sleep. But it also includes things like going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime, or avoiding exercise close to bedtime but ensuring exercise at some point throughout the day.
As we mentioned before, sleep is a biological need like eating, drinking, and breathing. Our ability to survive and thrive depends on it. Insufficient sleep is detrimental to the human condition in an overwhelming abundance of ways and can create a vicious cycle of risk, conditions, disease, and even early death. By implementing proper sleep hygiene, you can set yourself up for sleep success. If you have recurring sleep issues, it is critical to address those with a medical doctor as soon as possible to avoid both the short and long-term repercussions of sleep deprivation. Check out our 101 Tips for Better Sleep for more strategies to catch those Zs!