Scientists and physicians alike are beginning to recognize that sufficient sleep is just as important for long term health as eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly, but it’s estimated that more than 70% of American’s do not get the sleep they need to ward off illness and disease. In fact, a growing number of people are sleeping fewer than six hours a night with a full 75% experience some sleep difficulty each week.
Dangers of Insufficient Sleep
If you spend any time researching obesity, depression, or heart disease you’ll discover
that sleep – or lack of sleep, is nearly always mentioned as a factor. Lack of sleep
mimics depressive symptoms and it alters hormones leaving people at greater risk of
developing a number of health conditions including:
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
Shockingly, one study found that those who are chronically sleep deprived are three
times more likely to die from any health condition than those who get enough sleep.
Most doctors now recommend 6 to 8 hours of sleep for adults, 8-9 hours of sleep for
adolescents, 10 hours of sleep for kids younger than ten years, and 11 hours of sleep
for kids younger than 5 years.
Suggestions for Improving Quality and Quantity of Sleep
A growing body of research connects insufficient sleep with childhood obesity; however
lack of sleep is not the only factor. Kids falling asleep in front of the t.v., computer, or
other media are engaging in what some are calling “junk sleep”, which is harmful in that
it robs kids of the quality sleep they need to remain healthy.
Suggestion: Keep all media and electronics out of the child’s bedroom. Encourage
earlier bedtimes and reading before lights out.
Other suggestions for optimizing sleep in both children and adults include:
- Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and sugar in the hours before bedtime.
- Create a regular bedtime routine: turn off media, take a hot bath, read.
As much as possible, keep a consistent bedtime.
- Keep bedrooms dark.
- Keep bedrooms between 60 and 68 degrees for optimal sleep.
- Placing alarm clock where you won’t see it if you wake during the night helps reduce sleep-killing anxiety.
- Avoid fluids before bed.
- Try relaxation methods including breathing techniques and music CDs.
- Exercise regularly and have your doctor check for adrenal abnormalities.
Natural Sleep Solutions
Studies show that taking between 200 and 800 mg of valerian before bed helps
about 90% of people fall asleep and remain asleep throughout the evening;
however it has the opposite effect on about 10% of the population. Try taking
valerian during the weekend when you could take a nap but wouldn’t be
disappointed if instead you experienced a surge of energy.
Pure, active form of L-theanine taken in doses of between
50-200 mg before bed improves the quality of sleep by improving REM cycles.
Wild lettuce is effective for calming anxiety, reducing headaches, and reliving
muscle and joint pain. It may even help minimize the symptoms associated with
restless leg syndrome.
Other effective solutions include aromatherapy and meditation; supplementing with
hops may also help; and low doses of melatonin may be effective for encouraging
sleep. It should be noted however that some studies show high doses of melatonin may
lead to toxicity.