Do you have trouble sleeping at night, or find yourself exhausted during the day because your sleep quality was so poor? You’re not alone. The CDC estimates that 10% of Americans suffer from chronic sleep issues.
Sleep can be a problem for the other 90% as well — in today’s busy, fast-paced world, there are fewer people who manage to fit in the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
While this may be considered fairly normal in the U.S. today (sleep is a luxury few can afford, right?), we probably shouldn’t be so content with the status quo. According to a study published earlier this month in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, individuals with short or long sleep duration (less than 6 hours or more than 10) are significantly more likely to suffer from chronic and persistent anxiety and depressive disorders.
The study tracked approximately 1,000 people with diagnosed depression or anxiety, and followed up after 2 years. The study “adds significant information on the impact of sleep disturbances on the course of psychopathology,” the researchers said. “In clinical practice, routinely asking for sleep duration might identify subjects at risk for a chronic course.”
Further underscoring the importance of sleep, particularly for those with anxiety and other mental health concerns, a recent study at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University shows that sleep helps in removing and easing negative, fearful memories.
5 Simple Strategies for Better Sleep
- Exercise during the day. Get some physical activity in, and rest may come easier for you. Results from the SWAN sleep study show that vigorous exercisers had less trouble sleeping at night than those who were inactive.
- Watch your caffeine, alcohol and nicotine consumption — especially later in the day and at night. An afternoon cup of coffee can keep you awake much later on, alcohol is known to interfere with sleep quality, and nicotine is a stimulant. A cup of non-caffeinated herbal tea, such as chamomile, can be a great way to relax at night, however.
- Lighting matters. Exposure to bright light in the morning “helps reset our biological clock,” according to Dr. William Kohler, Medical Director of the Florida Sleep Institute. Similarly, dim lighting in the evening allows your body to produce melatonin, the “sleep hormone.” Even if you turn all the lights off, electronics can still hinder melatonin production, so limit TV and computer time late at night.
- Schedule relaxation time at the end of your night. In the hour before bedtime, allow your mind and body to wind down from the day’s stressors. Shift your focus from productivity to relaxation. Try reading instead of watching TV – in addition to sleep-inhibiting effect of the light from the screen, television programs and movies can be emotionally over-stimulating and can interfere with sleep. Conversely, reading has been shown to help us relax and fall asleep easier.
- Journal at bedtime. Kohler sometimes asks patients to write down everything that’s on their mind before hitting the sheets, which can help these thoughts and worries from plaguing you while you’re trying to fall asleep. Journaling before bed can also help induce sleepiness, similar to the effect that reading has.
Considering Prescription Sleep Aids?
Unfortunately, even if you’re doing everything right, sometimes sleep can still be elusive. This is why so many Americans are now dependent on narcotic prescription sleep medications such as Ambien. If you feel you’re in need of a sleep aid, consider taking melatonin supplements before moving onto prescription pills. As mentioned above, melatonin is a drowsiness-inducing hormone, but our bodies can be a bit fickle about its production. Current research shows that melatonin supplements are effective without being habit-forming. Talk to your doctor to determine the right dosage for you, as well as the time of day you should take it.
Ultimately, individuals with extremely persistent sleep troubles may benefit from participating in a comprehensive sleep study to get to the root of their problem.