Wake up, America! Most of you are not getting
enough sleep. According to a recent survey by the National Sleep Foundation, 40
percent of adults are so sleepy during the day it interferes with their daily
activities; 62 percent reported feeling drowsy while driving; and 27 percent
dozed off while driving during the past year.
And it's not just the big people who aren't meeting their
nightly sleep requirements: Sixty percent of children under the age of 18
complained of daytime tiredness last year, and 15 percent reported falling
asleep at school.
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In the worst cases, lack of sleep -- which impairs functions
such as memory, reaction time, and alertness -- can have serious, even deadly
results. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
drowsy drivers cause at least 100,000 crashes annually. For others, sleepiness
doesn't have such dire consequences, but it does make its mark: Tired people
aren't as productive at work or school, or as effective at parenting and other
interpersonal relationships. They're also at risk for increased health
problems. A recent study cited by the National Sleep Foundation showed that
people with chronic insomnia are more at risk for several kinds of psychiatric
problems and make greater use of healthcare services.
Why Are Americans So Sleepy?
Kierstan Boyd of the National Sleep Foundation says busy
lives and a failure to appreciate the importance of sleep are part of the
problem. "People aren't making sleep a priority. They try to cram too much
into their days. They're getting up earlier and doing more before going to work
or staying up later."
Another problem, says Boyd, is sleep disruption, or frequent
waking during the night. The National Center on Sleep Disorders Research
estimates that as many as 70 million Americans may suffer from disruptive sleep
disorders, such as sleep apnea (pauses in breathing or gasping for air that
wakes you), restless legs, or insomnia. Stress, medication, and environment
(such as room temperature and noise level) also play a big part in determining
your sleep success.
Getting the ZZZs You Need
Experts recommend eight hours of sleep a night, but that's
an average. Teens, for example, need nine to 10 hours. Aging also causes some
shifts in sleep patterns. The important thing is to get the amount you need --
every night. Sleep loss is cumulative, and it can't be "made up."
So how do you go about increasing your shuteye? Start by
following the tips below. If these don't work, you may have a sleep disorder
and should consult your doctor.
Eliminate environmental noise, like that of a TV set. Invest in a
"white noise" machine, if necessary, to drown out traffic sounds or
Exercise regularly, but at least three to four hours before you go to bed.
Vigorous exercise causes your internal body temperature to rise and can delay
sleep if done in the hours just before bedtime.
"Power naps" can stave off drowsiness, if necessary (when you're on
the road, for example). But naps can also disrupt nighttime sleep. If you must
nap, do so for no longer than 30 minutes in the late afternoon.
Use your bed only for sleep (and sex), not for working, reading or TV
viewing. Making your bed a sleep-only zone conditions your body to know that
bed equals sleep.
Stop drinking caffeine at least six hours before bedtime. Nicotine is also
a stimulant and should be avoided close to bedtime. And alcohol may help you
get to sleep, but it causes fragmented sleep, ultimately making you drowsier
the next day.
Make sure your bedroom is comfortable -- quiet, dark, and not too
Establish a regular waking time, even on the weekends.
Develop routines to cue your body that it's sleep time -- a warm bath, a
cup of decaffeinated tea or a glass of warm milk, listening to music or
Don't try too hard. If you don't fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and
do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.