Sleep is tough. Getting enough of it. Falling into it. And staying that way for a good amount of time -- restfully and without waking. A "solid" night's sleep? Who gets that nowadays?
According to statistics reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 30 percent to 40 percent of men and women get less than seven hours of sleep per night. About one-third of adults unintentionally fell asleep during the day over the past 30 days, and more than 41,000 people are killed or injured due to nodding off or falling asleep behind the wheel each year.
Those are pretty scary statistics, but definitely not surprising. Getting a solid seven hours isn't easy -- especially with work and life stress carrying into the night. And don't forget the ever-present computers and other devices that project light into our optical systems, continually messing with our circadian rhythms.
Tons of research has been done on the importance of sleep for health, how much sleep we need, the negative impact of sleep deprivation, and ways to get healthful, quality sleep. The truth is, not all the experts exactly agree on some of the finer points regarding sleep. After all, every person is unique with specific needs and health issues.
Not that I want you to lose any more sleep over the details, but consider these tips and guidelines on how to beat sleep deprivation and wake up feeling great:
• Forget the rule. The one about sleeping eight hours per night, that is. Seven hours and slightly more will do the trick, according to the experts. In a review of 1.1 million adults, researchers found that those who slept just over seven hours had less chance of dying after six years than those who slept more or less than seven hours. In fact, the risk of dying was greater for those who slept more, not less. No more than seven hours per night provides better cognitive performance than sleeping eight or more.
• Invest in a red light. Exposure to light during the night in any form -- the television, your cell phone, night light, laptop -- can suppress the production of melatonin, the hormone that is responsible for keeping your sleep/wake cycle in sync. If you need to have some light to help you navigate to the bathroom during the night, make it red.
• Exercise early in the day. Experts don't agree on how much time to keep between your workouts and bedtime, but at least three hours is the minimum. For the best shut-eye, exercise first thing in the morning.
• Skip the alcohol. Sure, a drink or two before bedtime may help you fall asleep, but it also will have you up and restless in a few hours and/or you will be awake before your normal starting time. The net result is less and restless sleep, not more.
• Eliminate distractions. That means you should keep the TV and computer off and your cell phone out of sight (if you need to have your phone in the room, keep it where you can't see it). Once again, the light from these objects can reduce melatonin levels. If you fall asleep better with a little noise in the background, choose some soothing music or white sound.
• Tame your alarm clock. Hopefully someday you won't need this annoying object. If you don't need one now, great. If you do, don't use the snooze button. Discipline yourself to get up!
• Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. That means Saturday and Sunday too! Work with your body's rhythms, not against them. I have this crazy timer in my body that puts me to bed at 10:24 p.m. every night. Not 10:23 or 10:25. For some bizarre reason that's when I end up in bed, so I go with it!
• Identify your magic bullet. Okay, maybe it's not magic. However, if you have a routine you can do before bedtime that helps you fall asleep and stay asleep -- perhaps its meditation, a hot shower or bath, doing crossword puzzles, reading, progressive relaxation -- follow it consistently. But whatever you do, don't do it in bed. Take all the non "S" activities out of bed, so your bedroom become a sanctuary for just sleep and sex, not work and watching TV.
• Rethink naps. A brief (10-20 minute) nap during the middle of the day can be helpful if you are really tired and feel like you will fall asleep at your desk or behind the wheel. However, a before-dinner nap can screw up your ability to fall asleep at your optimal time.
• Have sex. It's no secret that having sex can make you tired and also relieve stress. These are two essential ingredients for healthful sleep. For men, sex also releases a cocktail of hormones after an orgasm that promote sleep, relaxation and reduction of anxiety levels.
• Don't fight it. If you wake up during the night and can't fall back asleep within 20 to 30 minutes, don't get frustrated. Instead, choose to do something restful, such as reading, listening to soothing music, doing a jigsaw puzzle, practicing deep breathing, or meditating. You should be ready to crawl back between the covers in no time!
Sleep Deprivation and Your Health
Sleep deprivation can affect every aspect of your life. Although occasional problems with sleep usually are not a problem, chronic sleep deprivation is associated with a host of issues. For example:
- Getting too little or too much sleep is associated with hypertension, which in turn is related to heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, and stroke.
- Did you know that sleep deprivation can lower your testosterone levels 10 to 15 percent? This decline is equivalent to a decade or more of aging. Insufficient sleep and the accompanying low T levels also have a negative impact on your libido, strength, ability to concentrate, and energy level.
- Sleep deprivation promotes insulin resistance in people with Type 1 diabetes as well as healthy individuals, and length of sleep time is a significant risk factor for the development of Type 2 diabetes.
- Obesity and weight gain have been associated with sleep deprivation, although experts are short on understanding the impact of improving sleep duration on losing excess weight.
- Both animal and human studies show that sleep deprivation has a negative effect on learning, memory, and overall cognitive function.
- If you are short on shut-eye, you can expect your motor reflexes to suffer as well. You don't want that to happen. Especially if you lead an active lifestyle.
- New research indicates that too little sleep can lead to elevated levels of inflammatory substances (e.g., interleukins, C-reactive protein), which could then lead to many inflammation and metabolic related conditions.
You work hard, play hard, and want to live life to the fullest. Yet you can't do that if you don't get the right amount of quality sleep. Don't let sleep deprivation keep you from performing at your peak!
Craig Cooper is the Founder and President of CooperativeHealth, The Prostate Cancer Institute, Performance Research Labs and the Co-founder of "Absolutely Unretired People" (AUP). He is a health & wellness advocate for 50+ men's health and the author of the upcoming Harper Wave title: "The New Prime - 30 Days to Better Sex, Eternal Strength and a Kick Ass Life"