It's official: America is tired. (I know I am.) When is the last time you had a good night's rest? Not merely "enough" sleep, just the bare minimum that gets you through the work day before crashing in front of SportsCenter – We're talking about a serious night of rest that had you refreshed and ready to tackle the day.
I'm 24, slightly (okay, maybe more than slightly) overweight, but relatively active. I play basketball or go to the gym three or four times a week and generally try to stay as active as possible for someone who spends all day staring at a computer screen. Still, I have problems with sleeping. Sometimes I snore, sometimes I toss and turn all night, and sometimes it's hard to shut off from a long day of interacting with technology. Even as I fall asleep, the last thing I'm looking at is my cell phone before I plug it in and set my alarm. In a constantly connected society, is it even possible to shut off for the night and go to bed?
Why Sleep Is Critical
The CDC recently released a report on sleep (and our lack thereof) that called insufficient sleep a "public health epidemic." It affects all sections of society – At least 30% of every demographic listed fell asleep unintentionally over the past month at least once, including nearly 40% of men. And despite our best efforts to get a good night's rest, a staggering 6% of men admitted to falling asleep at the wheel over the past month.
The fact remains that sleep is central to the successes of our bodies and minds of not only getting through the day, but getting through the day well, and staying healthy enough to live to tell about it. Sleep is essential to an active mind and body and a strong immune system.
Technology: The Enemy of Sleep
We have a constant need to be connected. A USC study from 2011 suggests that our average media consumption will be a whopping 15.5 hours per day. And that doesn't bode well for our sleep schedules: A much-discussed poll in 2011 conducted by the National Sleep Foundation suggested a "correlation" between our dwindling amount of sleep and our increase in technology usage. So, how do we fix that?
Try avoiding technology at least an hour before going to bed. It'll help you unwind and focus on the tasks that need to be done so you aren't rushing around the house the next morning. If you really have nothing on your plate, try reading or doing a crossword puzzle – It'll take some of the edge off and calm your imagination.
If you really have to use technology, use items that'll help get you the rest you need to function the next day. I know it's a contradiction, but there are some devices that can help ensure better sleep every night. Hint: It isn't Words With Friends.
There are relatively inexpensive smart watches on the market that help put together a solid, complete picture of your health, including sleep. By simulating a rising sun as a substitute for a blasting alarm, Phillips' "wake-up lamp" slowly helps you rise out of bed, instead of jolting you out of REM, which keeps you groggy. And although the iPhone and Android devoices have had several apps for years designed to assist the sleeping process, this week brought news of a new iOS, now capable of monitoring your heart rate, breathing, and yes – your sleep. The point? If you're going to use technology before bed, implement the kind that will keep you alert the next day instead of keeping you up for another few hours.
Six Ways to Sleep Better
There isn't one catchall solution to getting better sleep, but there are a variety of things you can do to increase the rest you get every night.
1. Pick a sleep schedule – and stick to it. The Mayo Clinic says that going to bed every night and waking up at the same time every day "reinforces your body's sleep-wake cycle and helps promote better sleep at night." If you have trouble making the Daylight Savings Time transition, there might be another reason: doctors have said that maintaining a consistent sleep schedule makes the transition to and from Daylight Savings Time easier.
2. Nap smarter. Napping has a bad reputation for negatively affecting nighttime sleep and making you groggy. But if you're a fan of the occasional daytime snooze, you're in luck: Under the right circumstances, according to the National Sleep Foundation, napping can actually be a benefit.
To nap better, limit siestas to 20 or 30 minutes, and make sure you're in a comfortable position.
3. Keep a journal. A journal is an excellent way to get all of your thoughts out of your head. Conversely, you can also make a to-do list for the next day.
4. Meditate. It might sound like hokey spiritual stuff, but meditation doesn't have to reach a higher plane of existence: it has plenty of health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and anti-inflammation, and the most important part is that it helps you tune out and step away from the distractions of the day. Here's a short guide to get you started.
5. Exercise. Researchers at Oregon State University found in 2011 that those who get 150 minutes of exercise over the course of a week (about thirty minutes a day during the work week) "sleep significantly better and feel more alert" every day. And aside from helping with sleep, exercise benefits you in a variety of different ways.
6. Eat and drink the right things. There are a variety of foods that make sleeping easier and more efficient: herbal teas, milk, cereal, and oats all help. In addition, any food that contains the amino acid tryptophan - the ingredient in turkey that makes you sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner – aids sleep, including water, milk, yogurt, goat cheese and tuna fish. If you're looking to improve sleep, avoid consuming caffeine and sugar before bed, and consider cutting yourself off after one or two beers or glasses of wine; too much alcohol decreases REM sleep.
Good sleep has an enormous amount of benefits and is integral to a healthy lifestyle, so rather than spend another late night watching baseball games from the '80s on ESPN Classic, eating Doritos and reading the Wikipedia page for "brownies", do yourself a favor – read up and go to bed.