If asked, what are the most important things you can do to live a long healthy life? What would likely come to most people’s mind would be something like eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, managing stress, not smoking, managing their weight and moderate alcohol consumption. And they would be right; those are all important contributors to good health and longevity. But they would be missing a critically important factor, getting the right amount and quality of sleep every night. According to Dr. Safwan Badr, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “sleep is a necessity, not a luxury." Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., director the Sleep, Metabolism and Health Center at the University of Chicago agrees while stating “sleep should be considered a pillar of health with nutrition and exercise.” Mathew Walker Ph.D., director of The Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley takes it one step further saying that “I used to suggest that sleep is the third pillar of good health along with diet and exercise, but I don’t agree with that anymore. Sleep is the single most effective thing you can do to reset your brain and body for health.”
While our awareness of the importance of sleep on health and quality of life is increasing, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 35% of Americans are sleep deprived, getting less than the recommended 7 or more hours of sleep per night. Our own President Trump while campaigning last November said, “You know I’m not a big sleeper, I like three hours, four hours, I toss, I turn, I beep-de-beep, I want to find out what is going on.” Fortunately, the tide is turning, even in corporate America, where sleep deprivation was often seen as a badge of honor, is waking up to this problem. A study published in 2016, found that too little sleep among US workers costs approximately $411 billion and is responsible for 1.2 million lost days of work per year. Marco Hafner, the study’s main author is quoted in Fortune magazine as saying that “Our study shows that the effects from a lack of sleep are massive. Sleep deprivation not only influences an individual’s health and wellbeing but has a significant impact on a nation’s economy, with lower productivity and a higher mortality among workers.”
The biggest threats to a healthy longevity are chronic diseases, and sleep deprivation has been linked to the most serious ones including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and depression. Additionally, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 20 – 25% of all motor vehicle crashes could be fatigue related causing 50,000 debilitating injuries and up to 8,000 deaths per year. Sleep deprivation can also take a huge toll on our emotional well-being and cognitive functioning.
If are consistently getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night, and you are ready to improve your sleep, start by following these 12 Tips For Improved Sleep.
If after following the above guidelines you are still unable to sleep a consistent 7 hours, or you are waking up tired, having trouble focusing during the day or nodding off during the day, you may be one of the millions of Americans that have an undiagnosed sleep disorder. Chronic insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome are among the dozens of different sleep disorders that can impact the quality of your sleep. If you think you may have a sleep disorder, you may benefit by making an appointment with a qualified sleep specialist. Look for a sleep center accredited by the American Association of Sleep Medicine at www.sleepeducation.org/find-a-facility. If chronic insomnia, (having trouble falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night with difficulty getting back to sleep, waking up too early, or feeling that sleep is not refreshing, 3 nights a week for more than a month) is the issue, there is a very good chance you can manage it without medication. Go to www.bevaioralsleep.org to find out if the there is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist that specializes in Insomnia, a CPTI, in your area. CBTI’s are psychologists that treat insomnia first with behavioral therapies rather than medications.