With the recent time change, we lost an hour of sleep — a struggle for many of us. But beyond just losing an hour of sleep, there’s an even larger problem we should be talking about. As a society, we have a sleep problem.
Perhaps it has something to do with being more stressed out or working longer hours. Maybe it’s a symptom of gluing our eyes to the little glowing screens on our smartphones for a good portion of each day. Possibly it’s a sign that we’re exercising less and eating worse.
As a sleep medicine physician, I can confidently say that each of these factors has had a detrimental effect on sleep across the country. Unfortunately, it’s also making us more than just tired — it’s making us sick.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 20 percent of Americans currently deal with a sleep disorder. I know from working with my patients at my sleep medicine clinic that the 20 percent affected can be from any background, of any age and of any personality.
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A good deal of my patients affected by sleep or wakefulness disorders sleep less than seven hours per night, which leaves them exhausted during the day and unable to live up to their potential in work, school or with their families. Simultaneously, risks for developing conditions such as diabetes, obesity, depression, hypertension and cancer are all increased due to a lack of sleep. In other words, getting enough shut-eye not only prevents you from being tired, but also prevents a host of other health issues.
However, getting enough sleep is easier said than done in our busy, tech-driven lives. To help, here are the most common issues affecting sleep and how you can make small adjustments to improve your sleep:
1. Blue light emitted from electronic screens tells the brain that it needs to be awake, creating a waking effect. Try to remove all televisions and electronics from your bedrooms, and try not to look at a screen for at least an hour before bed.
If you must look at your phone before bed, enable “Night Shift” or a similar application on your phone to filter out blue light toward the end of your day. If you must use an electronic device, try a pair of glasses that filters out the blue light.
2. Watching television, reading and answering emails in bed is a bad idea – your bed should be reserved as a sleep area, not catching up on Netflix.
When you condition your brain that your bed is used for television, reading and answering emails, it associates your bed with those types of activities that require you to be awake.
3. Ease into a more healthy sleep schedule. Drastically changing a sleep schedule is tough, particularly for kids. Gradually ease into the sleep schedule you need so that you can get a full eight hours. Often, this means going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until you reach the desired bed time.
Though we may not be able to change our busy schedules or our need to check our smartphones every few minutes, we can change how well we’re sleeping by adhering to these few simple tips. With a little work, we’ll all be healthier and more rested!
Dr. Jennifer Hale is a board-certified sleep medicine physician at Saint Alphonsus Sleep Medicine Clinic in Meridian and Caldwell. Contact Dr. Hale’s office at (208) 302-6400. Learn more at saintalphonsus.org.