The Necessity of Sleep

The National Sleep Foundation recently announced its annual Sleep Awareness Week would begin Sunday, March 6. This week is set aside every year by the foundation to emphasize the importance of sleep to a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, 40 percent of Americans receive less than the suggested amount.

According to Gallup, the average American receives 6.8 hours of sleep a night, which is more than an hour less than the average time recorded in the early 1940s. Sleep specialists recommend adults ages 19 to 55 receive at least 6 hours of sleep, although closer to 8 hours is ideal.

The problem is, most Americans do not understand the role sleep plays in the body’s overall health. When an adult receives around 8 hours of sleep, he can expect to: experience less pain and a lower risk of injury, enjoy a better mood, have clarity of thought, bolster his immune system, and retain more memories. Conversely, sleep deprivation has been associated with Type 2 Diabetes, moodiness, high blood pressure, accidental death, cognitive dysfunction, depression, weight gain, hallucinations, microsleep, impaired brain activity, and illness.

With so many reasons to avoid sleep deprivation (or near-sleep deprivation), researchers have been digging deep to find out why it remains a problem for most Americans.

One reason is, screen time has increased for the average American as technology has sprinted from radio waves to television screens and onward. Today, it is not uncommon for an individual to own a cell phone, a tablet, a laptop, and several televisions. All of these devices emit a “blue light” (artificial light) that suppresses melatonin and, in turn, disrupts the body’s internal clock.

Sleep experts, like those at the National Sleep Foundation, urge Americans to put devices up before going to bed. According to studies, using a device—whether to check Facebook, text, or watch Netflix—can result in a restless sleep.

Americans also cite “lack of time” as one of the top reasons for sleep deprivation. As one sleep researcher noted, while bedtimes have been pushed later and later with each generation, there has been no corresponding change to wake times. Six hours of sleep is vital to a healthy lifestyle, while 8 hours is optimal. How this time is received is up to each individual.

A routine helps the body recognize when it is time to gear down for rest. Establish a loose series of events starting about an hour (if possible) before falling asleep. This routine may include teeth brushing, flossing, makeup removal, using the restroom, setting out the next day’s clothes, reading, and praying.

Finally, another top deterrent from regular, restful sleep is stress. People often find it difficult to shut off their brains or push aside anxieties in favor of rest. The quickest way to return to sleep-filled nights is to assess the causes of stress. Once the root of the stress is determined, the issue can be addressed. Additionally, healthy eating, exercise, a sleep routine, and seeking social support can help diffuse stress.

Now it is time for you to ask yourself: with so many reasons to get 8 hours of sleep every night, why are you settling for less?