The National Sleep Foundation has released its annual "Sleep in America Poll," which reveals how much sleep Americans are getting, what their bedtime habits are, and who's taking medications when sleep is elusive.
This year, for the first time, the report explored differences in the sleep habits of different ethnic groups.
And overall, no one's getting enough sleep. Fewer than half of respondents from each ethnic group say they get a good night's sleep on most nights.
African Americans reported the least amount of sleep. Inadequate sleep is starting to be associated with obesity, heart disease and diabetes -- all diseases that are more prevalent among African Americans.
The United States as a whole is one sleepy nation, according to the latest poll from the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Only about four in 10 respondents said they got a good night’s sleep every night, or almost every night, of the week.
While there were some differences in sleep habits among ethnic groups (African Americans reported getting the least amount of sleep), the overall trend was that Americans are sorely lacking on good-quality shut-eye. About one-third of adults in all ethnic groups said they get less sleep than they need to function at their best.
Before the invention of the light bulb, people slept an average of 10 hours a night. Nowadays, a separate NSF poll found that Americans sleep just under 7 hours per night, on average, during the week and about 7.5 hours on the weekends.
While I don’t believe there is a hard-and-fast rule as to how long you must sleep, it is crucial that you do get enough to feel well-rested.
What Happens When You’re Sleep-Deprived?
Americans get about 25 percent less sleep than they did a century ago -- and this isn’t just a matter of having less energy.
Too little sleep impacts your levels of thyroid and stress hormones, which in turn can affect your memory and immune system, your heart and metabolism, and much more. Over time, lack of sleep can lead to:
The consequences of sleep deprivation are so intense because your circadian rhythm has evolved over hundreds of generations to align your physiology with your environment, and your body clock assumes that, like your ancestors, you sleep at night and stay awake during daylight hours.
If you confuse the situation by depriving yourself of enough hours of sleep, you send conflicting signals to your body. For instance, in addition to the above, too little sleep can:
- Increase your risk of cancer by altering the balance of hormones in your body
- Accelerate aging
- Increase your risk of heart disease and stroke
- Raise your blood pressure
- Speed up tumor growth. Tumors grow two to three times faster in laboratory animals with severe sleep dysfunctions
Sleep researchers from across the United States have also discovered that:
- A single night of sleeping only four to six hours can impact your ability to think clearly the next day.
- Sleep deprivation can cause changes in your brain activity similar to those experienced by people with psychiatric disorders.
Additionally, your body does most of its repairs during sleep, so not getting enough of it can impair your immune system, leaving you less able to fight off diseases of ALL kinds.
Why You Should Turn Off the TV Well Before Bedtime
There are numerous reasons why the United States is a nation of insomniacs, and stress is certainly near the top of that list, but another often overlooked cause has to do with your bedtime ritual.
The most common activity done every night (or almost every night) before bed for Americans of all ethnic groups is watching TV. According to NSF’s poll, 75% of African-Americans, 72% of Hispanics, 64% of Whites, and 52% of Asians watch TV within one hour of going to bed.
This is a mistake, as research suggests that television can cause irregular sleep patterns and sleep difficulties. Aside from the obvious impact of purposely staying up late to catch your favorite late, late show, violent images on TV stimulate your body’s “fight or flight” response to stress. But since you know that the threat is not real, you suppress it.
This engages your brain in a constant mode of impulse and suppression, and when you turn off the TV, all of this built up impulse must be released, which may make it difficult to fall asleep.
It really doesn’t matter what type of TV show you’re watching, however. Television is stimulating to your brain and it will take you longer to fall asleep if you watch right before bed.
Further, if there is even the tiniest bit of light in your bedroom -- including the glow from your television -- it can disrupt your circadian rhythm and your pineal gland's production of melatonin and serotonin.
Melatonin is secreted primarily in your brain and at night it triggers a host of biochemical activities, including a nocturnal reduction in your body's estrogen levels. It’s thought that chronically decreasing your melatonin production at night -- as occurs when you’re exposed to nighttime light -- increases your risk of developing cancer.
The more your sleep is disrupted by light pollution, the lower your melatonin levels and the greater your risk of developing cancer becomes. So PLEASE make sure you sleep in a pitch-dark room every night -- and this means not only installing blackout drapes if necessary, but also turning off the TV!
How to Get More Shut-Eye
If you’re staying up late watching TV, surfing the Web, or working, it’s time to set some limits. Determine a set bedtime for yourself, just as you do for your children, and try not to let any other activities interfere with this time.
What time should you go to sleep? A good rule of thumb to follow is that if you feel tired when you wake up, you probably aren’t getting enough sleep. Most of us have set times that we need to wake up in the morning, so getting more sleep, for most of us, means going to bed earlier.
I actually recommend getting to bed as early as possible. Your body, particularly your adrenals, do a majority of their recharging or recovering during the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., so you should definitely try to be asleep during those hours.
At least an hour before your bedtime (but preferably two or more) start to wind down from your day. You may want to spend time journaling, meditating, sipping herbal tea, washing your face, using Meridian Tapping/Emotional Freedom Techniques (MTT/EFT) or reading a calming or spiritual book.
During this time, turn off your phone and your e-mail, and put away all work. This will give your mind a chance to unwind so you can go to sleep feeling calm, not hyped up or anxious about tomorrow's deadlines.
Once in the bedroom, some people find the sound of white noise or nature sounds, such as the ocean or forest, to be soothing for sleep. You’ll also want to adjust the temperature in your bedroom to a cool setting (most people find they sleep best at temperatures no higher than 70 degrees F and perhaps even a bit lower than that).
For even more helpful guidance on how to improve your sleep, please review my 33 Secrets to a Good Night’s Sleep. If you’re even slightly sleep deprived I encourage you to implement some of these tips tonight, as high-quality sleep is one of the most important factors in your health and quality of life.