By Carol Ash, DO
The current economy has many people worried about their families, job security, mortgages and retirement savings. The day-to-day lives of American citizens have become filled with more anxiety and stress than ever before - ultimately leading to restless nights as well.
According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2009 Sleep in America Poll, almost one-third of Americans are losing sleep due to concerns about their personal finances and the U.S.economy. In addition, the number of Americans that report getting less than 6 hours of sleep on average has increased significantly since 2001, while the number of Americans who report that they get 8 hours or more has decreased.
These results demonstrate that America is clearly experiencing the reality of threatening financial situations. In general, perceived threats have the ability to trigger a “fight or flight” response in the body, which releases adrenaline. Adrenaline produces vigilance and alertness, ultimately making sleep extremely difficult if not impossible.
Like food and water, sleep is a cornerstone of good health and enables peak performance. The results of the Sleep in America Poll are alarming, however may serve as a wake-up call for Americans to try and reclaim their once restful nights. By making a conscious and consistent effort to improve poor sleeping habits brought on by the challenging economy, it is possible to create a better “sleep routine” and improve your overall health in the process.
Winding down the same way each night, at the same time, and waking up at the same time each morning is a good start. Creating a relaxing, dark and cool environment to sleep in is another excellent approach. Finally, avoiding the use of electronics such as TVs and computers in the bedroom will help the brain to release sleep-inducing hormones. When experiencing difficulty in falling asleep, it helps to get out of bed and engage in a calming activity such as reading, and only returning to bed when relaxed and sleepy. It is also often helpful to sleep with the clock out-of-sight in order to avoid watching minutes tick by – a habit which can add to levels of anxiety.
In serious cases, if an individual goes for more than two weeks with disrupted sleep, it may be time for professional help. Board-certified sleep specialists are physicians trained to diagnose and treat more than 80 known sleep disorders. Signals of a more serious sleep problem include snoring, insomnia, brief periods of not breathing or gasping during sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, personality changes/disorders, depression, loss of concentration or morning headaches.
In all cases, sleep is an invaluable part of life. Although the economy has caused many people undue anxieties, making a conscious effort to reclaim a good night’s rest will make their quality of sleep one less thing to worry about.
Dr. Ash, a board-certified sleep specialist, is medical director of Sleep for Life at Somerset Medical Center.