Sleep – The Elusive Essential

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called sleep deprivation a health epidemic, and there are countless articles written by experts decrying the national tendency to place work, social life, and even video games and movie-watching ahead of sleep as a priority. Though that is certainly happening in a large number of American households, there are also plenty of homes where people who are unable to get to sleep would gladly trade places with those people who are actually making the conscious not to.  Though people who are suffering from insomnia may not believe that they are making conscious decisions that contribute to their problem, sleep scientists are pointing to a number of modern day conveniences and habit that, though hard to sacrifice or break, may be the reason that they are finding restorative sleep so elusive.  As a result of unwillingness to admit that long hours or electronic devices may be the villains in their ongoing battle, consumers are increasingly turning to sleep specialists, classes on getting a better night’s sleep, apps for their smart phones, and even specialized resorts and spas that are promising to deliver the sleep they’re so desperate for.  If you are a person who is suffering from insomnia, there are a number of things within your own environment, and completely under your control, that may be having a negative impact on your ability to sleep. Remedying these items can bring you the rest that you’re looking for. [caption id="attachment_498" align="alignright" width="300"]If you're having trouble sleeping, start with your mattress If you're having trouble sleeping, start with your mattress[/caption] The first thing that needs to be looked at, but which many people avoid, is your bed. Because beds generally represent a sizable investment, people have a tendency to pass by them when considering the source of their sleep problems. But the truth is that the average bed’s lifespan is only ten years, and if you’ve gone beyond that time frame then your sleep issues may be a matter of your bed no longer giving you the support that you need. People who are hesitant about purchasing a new bed should think about its expense over a ten year period rather than as a one-time shot – after all, a $1,000 mattress costs just $100 per year, an amount that is far less than what people are paying for sleeping pills and sleep seminars. New mattress technology also offers many of the benefits that people are now paying for separately, including monitors that measure movement and temperature and can tell you about your personal sleep behaviors. If you are considering purchasing a new mattress, there are a couple of things that should be kept in mind.  You should always make sure that a mattress is the right size for you and is long and wide enough so that you are completely comfortable and at ease when you are lying on it. It should provide you with the proper amount of support – if you are purchasing an inner spring mattress, the higher the number of springs, the better the support, while the new memory foam mattresses are designed mold to your body to support you completely. In addition to new mattress technology, there are many other things that can be done to improve your sleep environment. If you do a little bit of reading about sleep psychology you’ll quickly learn that having your bedroom decorated in bright colors can work against your ability to relax. Your bedroom should be a refuge to which you can retreat to destress from the anxieties and toils of the day, and in order to accomplish that it is best to decorate in muted, soft colors, and to declutter the room of too many stimulations. Sleep experts advocate removing all electronic devices. According to Nancy Rothstein, who is known to universities, hotels and others who seek her advice regarding sleeping environments as “The Sleep Ambassador,” “Your sleep sanctuary is not your auxiliary office or your entertainment center.”  She points out that many of her clients express an unwillingness to give up their computers, laptops, tablets and smart phones, and for those she goes so far as to educate them about a new sleep disorder, a form of sleepwalking in which people have been known to reach for their phones and begin texting in their sleep. The mere thought of what might be tweeted out while unconscious is often enough to convince them to step away from the smartphone. The need to remove electronic devices from the bedroom is not simply to prevent yourself from sending electronic messages as you snooze. According to Derk-Jan Dijk of the University of Surrey, the blue lights that touchscreen devices and televisions throw can actually stimulate our brains in the same way that caffeine does, and force us into a state of extreme alertness. Dijk is a professor of sleep and physiology, and he says that this specialized form of light, and even streetlights, can disrupt out ability to get the sleep we need. He recommends room-darkening curtains, as well as several other adjustments to the bedroom environment. These include lowering the thermostat in the bedroom to a cooler temperature, though finding the right setting may take some time – especially if the room is shared by both sexes. He also insists that people should go back to old-fashioned alarm clocks and give up using their phone’s alarm app. Finally, he suggests that for those who find themselves being kept up by worry in the middle of the night, the placement of a notepad and pen next to the bed will allow them to write down their thoughts to be addressed the next morning. When you’re away from home, you can still take advantage of many of these tricks, and many hotels even offer additional sleep-inducing amenities such as special pillow menus and “sound sleep” channels on in-room televisions. You can also begin a sleep-inducing routine such as breathing techniques or body relaxation that you can do wherever you are.