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Why Americans Rarely Get Enough Sleep

Sleep…we all need it, but what is considered enough? According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), the following chart illustrates your needs by age group:

how-much-sleep-we-need

With our 21st century lifestyles, we sometimes sacrifice our hours of sleep just to have some “me time” or to accomplish one last thing before bed. But, is it the same for everyone? Have you ever wondered how much sleep the rest of America is getting? The non-profit National Sleep Foundation has been polling Americans since 1991, compiling statistics on variants such as age, sex and ethnicity, while attempting to improve the quality of life for Americans suffering from sleep problems.

This year’s poll, “The Effects of Communications Technology on Sleep,” shows you’re not alone if you think you rarely get a good night’s sleep.

  • 43% of Americans between the ages of 13 and 64 say they rarely or never get a good night’s sleep during the week.
  • 60% say they experience problems every night or almost every night, such as snoring, waking in the night, waking too early, or feeling un-refreshed in the morning.
  • Most reported needing about 7 and a half hours of sleep but averaging only 6 hours or less during the week.

Generations are split on what kind of technology keeps us up at night, but of those surveyed, 95% said they used some type of communication device right before bed. Baby boomers (46-64 year olds) and Gen X’ers (30-45 year olds) were more likely to watch TV, while the younger generations, Y’ers (19-29) and Z’ers (13-18) were either on their computers or phones, chatting with friends, playing video games, or just surfing the net.

What is it about these technologies that keep us awake?

  • The exposure to artificial light is suppressing the release of melatonin, the sleep-promoting hormone, and enhancing your alertness just when you’re trying to relax.
  • Video games are not only revving up your brain, they can also cause anxiety depending on how competitive you feel.
  • A cell phone under your pillow may ensure you’re always in touch, but those 1:00a.m. text messages are not good for your health.
  • Keeping up with Facebook can be a job in itself, one that keeps you up much later than intended.

So, which generation do you think is affected the most by these bedtime activities? If you guessed the Gen Z’ers and Y’ers, you were right. One in five report feeling “sleepy” most days and find it difficult to concentrate in school. While we might try to combat our tiredness with caffeine and naps, improving sleep would be the better choice. Here are some highlights of healthy sleep advice from the NSF:

  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Build in time to wind down before you go to bed.
  • Create a cool, comfortable sleeping environment. Remove daytime distractions and keep it cool, extremes in temperature can keep you awake.
  • Expose yourself to bright light in the morning and avoid it at night. The light energizes us and prepares us for a productive day. That’s why those bright screens are keeping us awake.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercising in the morning exposes you to the light you need to set your biological clock; but vigorous exercise close to bedtime is to energizing.
  • Keep a “worry book” next to your bed. If something has you so stressed that you wake up at night, write it down with an action plan, and then forget about it until morning.
  • No alcohol. Contrary to what you may think, that nightcap isn’t helping you get to sleep. It’s actually depriving you of deep sleep and can cause you to wake up too early.

So, the next time you’re tempted to turn on the TV in bed or have that nightcap, ask yourself, is it really worth feeling tired all the next day. You might also want to check out the National Sleep Foundation (http://www.sleepfoundation.org/) website; it has so much useful information, enough to keep you up all night reading!

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