Some pivotal lines on the get healthy checklist: Eat better, fruits, vegetables and whole grains? Check. Exercise more, do some cardiovascular workouts, lift weights, stretch? Check. Get more sleep, eight hours a night.
Uh, not so fast. Most of us over look get enough sleep.
“Sleep is a necessity, but we treat it as a luxury,” said Jim Maas, a sleep researcher and professor at Cornell University in upstate New York. “Seventy-five percent of Americans experience some form of insomnia two to three times per week. Either they can’t fall asleep or can’t stay asleep.”
Moss made an important to the Alternative Health Blog.
“It’s not unusual to wake up several times per night,” explained Maas. “The trouble comes in not falling back asleep within 10 minutes.”
If you either can’t fall asleep at bedtime or can’t get back to sleep within the 10 minutes, that’s what researchers like Maas define as insomnia. It’s transient insomnia if the sleep pattern lasts a few nights or maybe a week or two. If the sleeplessness lasts more than three weeks, then it is categorized as chronic insomnia.
Plus, new research shows it is easier to lose unwanted pounds if you get your eight hours per night. That might be just the motivation some of us need to put sleep in a higher category of health goals for 2009.
But resolving to sleep more or sounder does not always translate to action.
Maas said your first step is to consider daytime habits, which are “the root” of most insomnia problems. If you drink coffee in the afternoon, or at least past 2 p.m., that could be tripping you up. Smokers are at higher risks to be insomniacs. Exercising within three hours of bedtime can disrupt your night (morning workouts are ideal for inducing nighttime sleep). The same three-hour alert zone applies to alcohol.
“People say they need a nightcap or even to drink themselves into oblivion to fall asleep,” said Maas. “But alcohol is not a sedative. It’s actually a stimulant. You might fall asleep and get through a 90-minute cycle [our nights of rest come in 90-minute segments of deep and lighter sleep]. The second half of your sleep is most affected by alcohol.”
Maas said there are sleep strategies that have been tested and confirmed by sleep researchers. One is keep your bedroom cool, 57 degrees F is best. Strive for a quiet sleeping environment with either constant or minimal noise. Darkness is essential; the light the better. Don’t eat too much before bed and don’t go to bed starving, either.
“If you can’t fall asleep or fall back asleep within 10 minutes, then I recommend getting out of bed,” said Maas, who has worked with hundreds of insomniacs at Cornell’s sleep lab. “You can do some light housework or read. But keep the lights low.”
Maas has another idea that has worked well for individuals who tend to magnify insomnia by focusing on life’s problems as they are staring at the ceiling.
“I recommend that we all have a ‘worry time’ before bed,” he said. “Write down all of your problems on a list, and then put them to rest on the nightstand.”
Bob Condor blogs for Alternative Health Journal every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.