The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than quarter of the population doesn’t get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions, including; diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression—which threaten our nation’s health.
Insufficient sleep is responsible for motor vehicle and machinery-related crashes, causing substantial injury and disability each year. In short, drowsy driving can be as dangerous—and preventable—as driving while intoxicated.
Everyone has their own internal clock that controls a natural cycle of sleeping and waking. Your body clock determines, to a certain degree, how much of the hormone melatonin your body makes. Melatonin secretion is part of what causes drowsiness – levels rise in the evening, remain high for most of the night, and then begin to fall in the early morning. Light also affects how much melatonin your body produces. Light inhibits the release of melatonin. So during the long winter nights, more melatonin is produced and we tend to sleep a little longer. As the longer days of summer approach, we tend to sleep a little less. But artificial light, coming from watching the late-night news in bed, or working on our iPads and smartphones, can also suppress melatonin secretion, making it harder to fall asleep. And we all know how a lack of sleep affects our mood, memory and behavior the next day; not to mention the chronic effects discussed previously.
The promotion of regular sleep is known as sleep hygiene. The following is a list of sleep hygiene tips which can be used to improve sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommendations:
- Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning.
- Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, dark, and relaxing environment, which is neither too hot or too cold.
- Make sure your bed is comfortable and use it only for sleeping and not for other activities, such as reading, watching TV, or listening to music. Remove all TVs, computers, and other “gadgets” from the bedroom.
- Physical activity may help promote sleep, but not within a few hours of bedtime.
- Avoid large meals before bedtime.
The Huffington Post and The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health collaborated on a live webcast event titled “Fighting the Clock: How America’s Sleep Deficit is Damaging Longterm Health.”
In this highlight from the event, Charles Czeisler, M.D. Ph.D., chief of the division of sleep medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and professor and director of the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, explains the findings from a study of factory workers that examined sleep habits and productivity. The study found that some simple changes in the schedule lead to a 20 percent increase in productivity and also better results on the health indices measured. It’s a win-win, he says, for tired workers and money-conscious employers. “Health improves simultaneously, but the factories are motivated by an increase in productivity,” Dr. Czeisler explains.