The CDC has it right in declaring lack of sleep a public health epidemic.
Lack of sleep has been linked to a number of public issues such as industrial disasters, medical and occupational errors, and motor vehicle accidents.
In addition to these well-known consequences, however, new studies have shown that people who receive insufficient sleep are at increased risk for chronic disease such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and even cancer.
Research backs the call for better sleep with shocking statistics
Two recent studies have shown that unhealthy sleep behaviors and self-reported sleep difficulties are becoming more prevalent across the country, and insufficient sleep is becoming of increasing concern.
According to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey, 35% of the nearly 75,000 adults who responded received less than seven hours per night. A number of other health problems were also reported, including 38% of respondents reporting that they fell asleep unintentionally during the day at least once during the preceding month.
An alarming 4.7 percent nodded off while driving. This is especially concerning when you consider that drowsy driving accounts for at least 1550 fatalities and 40,000 traffic accident injuries each year.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Sleep Disorders Questionnaire, adults between the ages of 40-59 are most likely to get less than eight hours of sleep at 40.3 percent, with the ages of 20-39 not far behind at 37 percent.
Furthermore, those adults who did report getting less than seven hours of sleep per night also experienced more difficulties with performing daily tasks.
How much sleep is necessary?
According to the National Institutes of Health, school-age children need a minimum of 10 hours of sleep per day, while teenagers need around nine hours. Adults need at least seven hours. Unfortunately, the National Health Interview Survey finds that nearly 30 percent of adults get less than six hours of sleep per night on average. Only 31 percent of high school students receive eight hours of sleep on an average school night.
There are a number of ways for both adults and children to improve their sleep habits, known as sleep hygiene. First, try to go to bed at the same time each day. Likewise, set an alarm to ensure you rise at the same time every morning. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed can both make falling asleep easier and improve the quality of your sleep, as will avoiding nicotine. While a small bedtime snack is okay, it’s best to avoid eating a large meal.
For many with busy minds, sleep hygiene falls short
Indeed, practicing good sleep hygiene does NOT mean that your busy head calms down when you hop into bed. If you really want to sleep like a baby, then you’ve got to find a way to turn off all the inner commotion.
What causes the mental commotion that you can’t just turn off? Fascinating research as reported in the March 2010 issue of Scientific American Magazine suggests that the brain’s Default Mode Network (DMN) is the culprit. Scientific American positioned the DMN as the brain’s dark energy.
The DMN is responsible for self-referential thoughts (autopilot thinking). When the DMN is overactive, your mind churns and spins, generating thoughts that keep you tense and awake.
Most people have never heard of the DMN, much less how to turn it off. You can, in fact, turn off your DMN, clear your head and relax. This has been proven via fMRI scans. It’s relatively easy to do and it leads to natural sleep when you are tired.