September 7, 2016 by Mark Hammerstrom
“Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”
–William Shakespeare “Macbeth”
I am going to depart from the usual challenging news of the last few months and write about something related more directly to our personal wellbeing. That would be sleep. More to the point, what is causing the lack thereof for so many of us?
The power of sleep to provide much needed therapeutic rest to both mind and body has been well documented. I threw in the quote from Macbeth because it describes the benefits of a good night’s sleep so well, something I would bet Shakespeare himself craved as he churned out his prodigious literary output. The fact that he wrote this more than four hundred years ago tells me that the impact on our lives of lack of sleep is certainly is not a new phenomenon.
Perhaps it is also good to take heart that we are not alone. Misery loving company, one day at a company meeting one of my associates happened to stretch and yawn during a break and said he had not slept well the night before. In fact, he said for quite a while he had been waking up early in the morning and had very little luck falling back to sleep. Then, around the table, one by one, we all sort of said ‘me too!’ which made me feel a little better, but frankly did not help me get anymore sleep.
I hate to admit it, as it will pinpoint me as a ‘man of a certain age,’ but I ran into an interesting article on the subject in AARP The Magazine. The article, titled “World War ZZZ” by David Dudley, focused on the fact that we get on average an hour or two less sleep per night than the generation preceding us. In fact, he points out that in 1942 only about 11% of Americans reported that they slept less than 6 hours per night, but by 2013 that jumped to 43%. According to Dudley, this is such a significant change that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) declared this a public health problem. In a 2015 survey of the top health concerns of Americans, lack of sleep ranked number two on the list!
What is causing this change? Dudley points out that some of it is ageing. We are more prone to sleep problems as we age due to sleep apnea and other significant health issues. He is quick to point out that we need to receive proper medical care if we experience chronic sleep disruption as it can cause additional, serious health consequences.
Other issues such as obesity and the greater use of anti-depressants and other medicines also contribute.
One of the more recent, yet increasingly prominent, culprits seems to be simply the age we live in: we stay up later because we have more to keep us up rather than going to bed. More television choices, smart phones, tablets, electronic communications we don’t properly manage at night, all add to disrupting our natural circadian rhythms. Stress caused by unrealistic expectations in our 24-7 world also contribute mightily. Additionally, the very light emitted by our devices apparently scrambles our natural day / night awareness and keeps us out of sync as well.
What to do? Obviously consult with your physician if you are experiencing acute health challenges. A few tips he also suggests include:
- Set a schedule: Try to maintain a consistent, dedicated sleep time every day.
- Make your bedroom just that: Take the TV out of the bedroom. Replace your pillows and mattress if you have not done so in a while. In other words, use the bedroom for what it is intended for: sleeping!
- Lay off the light: Turn off electronics and devices that emit disruptive light before you go to bed and leave them off until you get up.
So, a little self-care is in order for us it would seem. Let’s just don’t lose a lot of sleep over it!
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