Are you driving sleepless? It’s like driving drunk, maybe even worse. Even if you’re not asleep at the wheel, you are sure to be sharing the road with sleep-deprived drivers.
Lack of sleep is “a national epidemic,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Almost a quarter of people the CDC surveyed confessed that sleepiness keeps them from concentrating.
What’s worse, nearly 5 percent of them told CDC pollsters they’d “nodded off or fallen asleep” while driving at least once in the previous month.
Sleep-deprived people who are tested by using a driving simulator or by performing a hand-eye coordination task perform as badly as or worse than those who are intoxicated. Sleep deprivation also magnifies alcohol’s effects on the body, so a fatigued person who drinks will become much more impaired than someone who is well-rested.
Fortunately, there are ways to improve your sleep. Many require little or no money. In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson describes effective techniques, including something called cognitive behavioral therapy, that can help you get a better night’s rest. After the video, keep reading to learn more.
How much is enough?
Many of us just aren’t getting enough rest. Here are the National Institutes of Health’s recommendations:
- School-age children – at least 10 hours.
- Teenagers – 9 to 10.5 hours.
- Adults — 7 to 8 hours.
At the same time, some people don’t need eight hours of slumber. Genetics appear to play a role in deciding how much sleep you need. “A study in the August issue of the journal Sleep reports the identification of a gene mutation that may allow the carrier to function normally on less than six hours of sleep per night,” says the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
People with the gene may be more resistant to the effects of sleep deprivation, the academy says.
In “How to Sleep Like a Baby, Wake Up Refreshed, and Get More Out of Life” (posted online by Google Books), author Dianne Hales tells readers:
Your goal should be to sleep only as much as you need to feel refreshed the next day. Don’t feel that you have to log eight hours. If five hours are enough to recharge your battery, consider yourself lucky. You aren’t an insomniac, just a naturally short sleeper.
3 reasons you’re not sleeping
The CDC names three big obstacles to sleep:
- 24-hour-a-day access to technology.
- Work schedules.
- Sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia.
Not getting enough rest? Here are 18 free or affordable ways to get better sleep and links for learning more about getting good quality sleep.
However, if you think a medical problem is causing your sleeplessness or sleepiness, you need help. Get a checkup from your doctor or find a sleep specialist through the National Sleep Foundation’s directory. Snoring may be a tip-off that you have sleep apnea. It’s a potentially serious problem, says the Mayo Clinic.
1. Create the atmosphere
Make your bedroom a comfortable, inviting place. Pay attention to the temperature, the aesthetics and the comfort of your bed. Toss out nightclothes that aren’t loose and comfortable. Change your bedding and sleepwear at least weekly. Set the temperature between 60 and 75 degrees F, and make sure the air circulation is good.
2. Invest in a good mattress
“You should think about buying a new mattress if you wake up tired or achy, you tend to sleep better at hotels than at home, your mattress looks saggy or lumpy, you’re over 40, or your mattress is at least 5 to 7 years old,” says Consumer Reports’ Mattress Buying Guide. (You’ll need a subscription; many public libraries subscribe.)
You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars. One of CR’s top recommendations for a memory foam mattress (Novaform Memory Foam Collection 14-inch Serafina) costs about $1,100 at Costco. The top-rated innerspring mattress (Serta Perfect Day iSeries Applause) is about $1,075.
3. Wait until you’re sleepy
Stay out of bed until you’re feeling drowsy, says the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Instead,
Read a book, listen to soft music or browse through a magazine. Find something relaxing, but not stimulating, to take your mind off of worries about sleep. This will relax your body and distract your mind.
4. Train your brain
It’s hard to break and make habits, but, once established, they run effortlessly in the background of our lives. Bad habits contribute to many sleep problems.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) is one way of reshaping your sleep habits. The nonprofit National Sleep Foundation explains how it works. You’ll get “information about sleep norms, age-related sleep changes, reasonable sleep goals, and the influence of naps and exercise,” says WebMD.
CBTI may take weeks of work and require professional help. The National Institutes of Health says, “Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) has proven efficacy,” but, in a pilot program for sleep disorders for breast cancer patients, many failed to consistently follow the recommendations given.
5. Keep the bedroom a sanctuary
Other approaches to reforming sleep habits include establishing good sleep “hygiene” by adopting new behaviors that help you get better sleep. One is to reserve your bedroom for sleep, dressing and sex. Nothing else. The underlying idea is to associate your bedroom with restfulness and sleep, eliminating activities connected with wakefulness or stress.
6. Get up
“If you are not asleep after 20 minutes, then get out of the bed,” says the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Insomniacs shouldn’t lie around in bed when they’re not sleeping. “The belief (is) that excess time in bed makes sleep problems worse,” says WebMD. This helps avoid making a connection in your mind between your bed and sleeplessness.
7. Try a sleep app
Healthline reviews its top sleep apps for iOS and Android. Many feature sounds like peaceful music, white noise or falling rain and whispering wind. Others use hypnosis, deep breathing instructions or meditations.
8. Do a DIY sleep clinic
SleepRate is an iOS app that works with later-generation iPhones, iPads and iPods. It’s more elaborate and more expensive than other apps. Time describes it:
SleepRate is an app that helps people who can’t or won’t go to a sleep clinic to generate, in DIY fashion, the same kind of information that all the monitors do to help sleep experts design the right behavioral therapy for patients.
The app ($99) “can detect sleep disturbances by mathematically defining the connection between sleep, heart rate and respiration,” Time says. It comes with a kit including a sleep plan, a heart-rate monitor that’s worn on the chest and wirelessly transmits data to your phone, and a Stanford University proprietary CBTI treatment for sleep problems.
9. Manage caffeine and tobacco
Coffee does a good job of keeping you awake. That’s why we love it. The problem is, it stays in your system for hours. Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine advises:
… avoid caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and some pain relievers) for four to six hours before bedtime. Similarly, smokers should refrain from using tobacco products too close to bedtime.
10. Watch the alcohol
A couple of drinks in the evening can help you fall asleep, no trouble. But, a few hours later it acts as a stimulant, causing you to lie awake or to wake repeatedly, diminishing your quality of sleep. The Harvard Sleep Medicine article says “to limit alcohol consumption to one to two drinks per day, or less, and to avoid drinking within three hours of bedtime.”
11. Go dark
Darkness has a powerful and necessary effect on our bodies. Melatonin, a hormone that makes us sleepy and helps regulate our body’s circadian rhythm, is released by the pineal gland in darkness, says the National Sleep Foundation. Exposure to light at night interferes with that process.
You can buy melatonin pills over the counter. The foundation says they may be helpful with jet lag. But, generally, it advises caution with melatonin pills and says to avoid depending on them.
12. Stick to a schedule
Train your brain to expect sleep by making a schedule and sticking to it. Decide what time you want to be asleep and when you want to wake up and follow the schedule, a little rigidly at first to reinforce it. Keep it up on weekends and holidays so disruptions don’t throw you back into a pattern of sleeplessness.
13. Establish a ritual
Think about the things you do or want to do before retiring. Maybe you brush your teeth, lay out clothes, make lunch for the next day, climb into your pajamas and set an alarm. Do these same tasks and preparations every night and in the same order to establish a soothing habit that tells you it’s time for sleep. Plug the ritual into your bedtime schedule.
14. Remove allergens
Keep your bedroom clean. If you are allergic to mold, pollen or pet danders, remove wall-to-wall carpeting and use washable area rugs instead. Wash rugs and bedding in hot water. Some people like to use an air filter while they’re sleeping. Here’s how to wage war against allergens at home.
15. Pull the plug
This is the hard part for many people. TVs and computers are stimulating and they are a source of light when you need darkness. The bonus: Your love life just might improve.
16. Break a sweat
Exercise helps you fall asleep more quickly and get a good night’s rest. But exercise stimulates the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that keeps us alert, so do it in the morning to avoid being revved up at night, says Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine.
17. Bore yourself to sleep
Read something so dull it puts you to sleep. “Now is finally the time to learn about the intricacies of legislative process or attempt James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses,'” says SleepEducation.com’s list of do’s and don’ts. Stay away from thrillers, horror stories and reading that stirs up your emotions.
18. Listen to audiobooks
Some people find listening to downloaded audio programs or books sleep-inducing.
What are the habits, tips or tricks you use to get a good night’s sleep? Tell us by posting a comment below or on Money Talks News’ Facebook page.