If you are the kind of person who goes through their day feeling like you constantly need another cup of coffee and when your alarm goes off in the morning you want to take a sledgehammer to it, then you are definitely not alone. That feeling is known as being sleep deprived, and it is a result of not getting the seven to nine hours of sleep each night that you know you’re supposed to be getting. There are millions of people in the United States, and even more around the world, who are doing the same thing that you are doing. In fact, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called sleep deprivation a national epidemic, and similar statements have been made in the United Kingdom.
Researchers are constantly trying to figure out why so many of us are either making sleep a low priority or struggling with one of the most natural things in the world, and they have come up with some answers. Here are some of the things that they have recently discovered about our sleep habits:
• Many of us procrastinate when it comes to our bedtime. A study conducted in the Netherlands showed that people who report not getting enough sleep are also more likely to relate to statements like, “I easily get distracted by things when I actually would like to go to bed,” or “I want to go to bed on time but I just don’t.” Those same study subjects indicated that they tend to procrastinate in other areas of their lives as well.
• A lot of people have read about a phenomenon known as short sleeping, an ability to get by on just a few hours of sleep that very few people in the world actually have. Scientists say that in reality, only about one percent of the world’s population is a short sleeper, so though you may think that you can do it, you probably can’t.
• Following up on that last point, our brains trick us into not recognizing sleep deprivation when it is happening to us. According to a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, people who were only allowed four hours of sleep per night over a period of two weeks reported that they felt “only slightly sleepy.” The study’s co-author, Hans P.A. Van Dongen, says that, “Routine nightly sleep for fewer than six hours results in cognitive performance deficits, even if we feel we have adapted to it.” He and his colleagues theorize that the more sleep deprived you are, the less you can remember what it felt like to function normally.
• Here’s an oldie but goodie – drinking coffee late in the afternoon or in the evening is a huge contributor to sleeplessness. It seems strange that people who can’t understand why they can’t get to sleep at night haven’t gotten the memo on caffeine, but it’s true.
• If you’re having a hard time sleeping at night, it may be a function of the temperature in your bedroom. One solution to this problem, especially for those of us who like the feeling of having tons of blankets piled on top of us, is to stick your feet out from under the covers. Research has shown that this simple action can have a rapid cooling effect on the body, and that in turn can make you feel sleepy.
• If bad dreams are keeping you awake, you may be watching too much news. There is no question that negative stories on social media or on the nightly news shows are capable of causing nightmares, and if you are prone to having them then you may want to skip the coverage.
• If you are a person whose job requires that you report in early, it is probably causing problems with your sleep schedule. A study done by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine found that those who have to get to work or school early get less sleep overall. Though they have suggested that everybody would be much better off if work hours didn’t begin until 10:00 a.m., it is unlikely that most employers are likely to adopt their recommendation.
• Worry can have a truly detrimental impact on your ability to sleep. If you are a person who is haunted by anxiety and stress during the day than it is unlikely to leave you at night, and in fact there’s a good chance that they are going to keep you staring at the ceiling until the wee hours.
• Sleeping with somebody may be cozy, but it can be hard on your sleep quality. As much as we love snuggling with our sleep partners, research has shown that we sleep much more soundly when we’re sleeping alone.
• Electronic devices are one of the biggest culprits in today’s sleep deprivation epidemic. Not only are our smart phones and tablets incredibly tempting and providing us with endlessly stimulating content, there is also a physiological impact of using them — they emit a specific wave length of blue light that actually diminishes our body’s production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates when we feel drowsy and when we feel alert. Staring at our electronic devices convinces our brain that it is time to wake up, so even once you decide that you’re tired and turn it off and roll over to go to sleep, your brain won’t cooperate.
• You need more sunlight. This is particularly true for those who work in offices or structures where they are not exposed to natural light from a window. The same impact that you get from your electronic device works in reverse when it comes to lack of natural light. You need a certain amount of exposure each day to keep your body in tune with its natural rhythms. If you don’t have a window, get outside into the sunlight at some point during the day.