The Science Behind (Good!) Sleep

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Roughly 1/3 of Americans report symptoms of insomnia (?!) – a trend that’s gotten worse in recent years. According to studies, in 1960 Americans reported an average of 8.5 hours of sleep a night. Fast forward to today and that number hovers between 6 and 6.5. According to the CDC, adults need 7 – 8 hours of sleep each night which means our nation is facing a serious sleep deficit. Why the decline in sleeping hours? Insomnia specialist Lisa Medalie has a few ideas.

“I think people are a little more stressed about finances, they’re worried about job security,” Medalie says. “Also, caffeine use is another big culprit. There’s a Starbucks on every corner.”

She says another biggie when it comes to interfering with sleep it the use of electronics so close to bedtime.

“There’s a light that emits from electronic devices and it’s a blue spectrum light,” Medalie says. “That particular type of light is actually sending a message to the brain that it’s time to be awake.”

Medalie says we don’t know why we sleep, but there are theories.

“We suspect that during sleep, you know immune function is regulated, hormones are metabolized, we suspect that our brain metabolism is operating as well,” she says. “We don’t exactly know why we sleep at this point, we just know the consequences of inadequate sleep and the benefits of adequate sleep.”

The good news is you can take back control of your nighttime ritual. Here are a few things Medalie says you can do if you aren’t locking in enough zz’s:

  1. Get on a consistent sleep schedule. Figure out how much sleep you need to feel good the next day, pick a time to wake up each morning, and work your way backwards to find your ideal bedtime. And yes, this includes weekends.
  2. Avoid naps. If you really need one to get through the rest of your day, try to limit yourself to 20 minutes.
  3. No caffeine after lunch.
  4. Shut all electronics off at least one our before bedtime. You won’t miss that much, we promise.
  5. Make sure you fit your workout routine in at least three hours before your head hits the pillow. That being said, people who work out do report sleeping better, so make sure you get to the gym!
  6. Avoid spicy foods at least three hours before bedtime but make sure you have something in your tummy. “It isn’t a good idea to go to bed hungry,” Medalie says.

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