Recent research finds that the activities that many Americans engage in before going to bed, may disrupt your sleep.
Do you find yourself feeling groggy at work? Do you have a hard time staying alert and getting started in the morning, almost doze off during your commute, start to lag early in the afternoon and want nothing more than a nap throughout the day? If so, it may be because you're checking your email or using your cell phone in the hour before you go to sleep at night, according to a recent study.
The 2011 Sleep in America poll released by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) found that if you're having sleep problems, you're in good company. 43 percent of Americans between the ages of 13 and 64 say they rarely if ever get a good night's sleep on weeknights. More than half (60 percent) say that they experience a sleep problem every night, or almost every night. About three quarters (74 percent) of those over 30 said that sleepiness affects their work.
The poll also found pervasive use of communications technology in the hour before bed, and that a significant number of Americans aren't getting the sleep they say they need and are searching for ways to cope.
"Over the last 50 years, we've seen how television viewing has grown to be a near constant before bed, and now we are seeing new information technologies such as laptops, cell phones, video games and music devices rapidly gaining the same status," says Lauren Hale, Ph.D., Stony Brook University Medical Center.
Everyone does it in bed
Almost everyone surveyed, 95 percent, uses some type of electronics like a television, computer, video game or cell phone at least a few nights a week within the hour before bed.
"Artificial light exposure between dusk and the time we go to bed at night suppresses release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, enhances alertness and shifts circadian rhythms to a later hour-making it more difficult to fall asleep," says Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. "This study reveals that light-emitting screens are in heavy use within the pivotal hour before sleep. Invasion of such alerting technologies into the bedroom may contribute to the high proportion of respondents who reported that they routinely get less sleep than they need."
- About two-thirds of baby boomers (67 percent) and generation X'ers (63 percent) and half of generation Y'ers (49 percent) watch television every night or almost every night within the hour before going to sleep.
- Computer or laptop use is also common. Roughly six in ten (61 percent) say they use their laptops or computers at least a few nights a week within the hour before bed.
- Cell phone use, specifically texting and talking on the phone, is also common, especially among younger generations. Nearly half of generation Y'ers (42%) say they send, read or receive text messages every night or almost every night in the hour before bed compared to 15 percent of generation X'ers and 5 percent of baby boomers.
"My research compares how technologies that are 'passively received' such as TVs and music versus those with 'interactive' properties like video games, cell phones and the Internet may affect the brain differently," says Michael Gradisar, Ph.D., Flinders University (Australia). "The hypothesis is that the latter devices are more alerting and disrupt the sleep-onset process."
"Unfortunately cell phones and computers, which make our lives more productive and enjoyable, may also be abused to the point that they contribute to getting less sleep at night leaving millions of Americans functioning poorly the next day," says Russell Rosenberg, PhD, Vice Chairman of the National Sleep Foundation.
So how do we handle drowsiness at work?
Americans are coping with sleepiness by drinking caffeine and taking regular naps. The average person on a weekday drinks about three 12 ounce caffeinated beverages, with little difference between age groups.
Napping is common in all age groups. More than half of generation generation Y'ers (52 percent) say they take at least one nap during the work week compared to about four in ten generation X'ers (38 percent) and baby boomers (41 percent).
Healthy Sleep Advice
If you are having problems sleeping, the National Sleep Foundation suggests the following to improve your sleep:
- Set and stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day.
- Expose yourself to bright light in the morning and avoid it at night. Alternatively, dim your lights when it's close to bedtime.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise in the morning can help you get the light exposure you need to set your biological clock. Avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime if you are having problems sleeping.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Allow enough time to wind down and relax before going to bed.
- Create a cool, comfortable sleeping environment that is free of distractions. If you're finding that entertainment or work-related communications are creating anxiety, remove these distractions from your bedroom.
- Treat your bed as your sanctuary from the stresses of the day. If you find yourself still lying awake after 20 minutes or so, get up and do something relaxing in dim light until you are sleepy.
- Keep a "worry book" next to your bed. If you wake up because of worries, write them down with an action plan, and forget about them until morning.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages, chocolate and tobacco at night.
- Avoid large meals and beverages right before bedtime.
- No nightcaps. Drinking alcohol before bed can rob you of deep sleep and can cause you to wake up too early.
- No late-afternoon or evening naps, unless you work nights. If you must nap, keep it under 45 minutes and before 3:00 pm.
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