The National Sleep Foundation’s 2022 statistics are out and are eye opening! If you struggle with sleep, you are not alone – studies show that almost HALF of all Americans say they feel sleepy during the day 3 – 7 days per week and 35.2% of all adults in the US report sleeping on average less than seven hours per night. This insufficient sleep has an estimated economic impact of over $411 billion each year in the US alone! This compounded with the fact that 40% of people with insomnia are believed to also be affected by a mental health disorder makes lack of sleep a serious issue.
(Find the whole list here: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/sleep-facts-statistics)
But don’t despair! Just knowing you’re not alone can help reduce anxiety about your sleep (or lack of it). There are also research-backed methods to improve sleep that I’m happy to share this month for National Sleep Awareness Month!
My first tip is probably my most unpopular – sleep consistency!
Sleep consistency means that you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day of the week – yes, even on the weekends. Getting into a sleep rhythm like this helps on so many levels including hormone production, circadian rhythm, and sleep drive.
When you hear the word “hormone,” what comes to mind? Probably hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, right? Well – melatonin (which helps with sleep) and cortisol (one of our main stress chemicals) are also hormones and are deeply impacted by routine. If you go to bed at inconsistent times or sleep in on the weekends, it’s easy for the body to get confused about when to produce and utilize these vital hormones. This disruption can negatively impact sleep.
Cortisol is higher in the mornings and helps us wake from sleep and get moving with our day and melatonin is highest in the evenings to help us wind down to prepare for sleep. If the body isn’t in a rhythm due to an inconsistent sleep schedule, it’s easy for production of these chemicals to occur outside of this natural cycle and contribute to daytime sleepiness, feeling “wired” at night, and being unable to wake up easily in the morning or go to sleep at night.
Your circadian rhythm is a pacemaker-like mechanism in the brain that controls systems in the body such as the release of hormones, body temperature, blood pressure, the timing of sleep and wakefulness, and much more. Typically, the circadian rhythm makes your desire for sleep strongest between midnight and dawn and also in the mid-afternoon (this is the physiological basis for a siesta for mid-afternoon nap!). It is most strongly impacted by light exposure (more on this in future blog posts), time cues, and melatonin.
You’ve probably noticed that the longer you’re awake, the more tired you feel. You probably also feel more tired after a few nights of poor sleep. This is called sleep drive and it gradually builds up over the course of the day to help you feel tired and ready for sleep in the evenings. Naps and an inconsistent sleep schedule often reduce sleep drive, making it more difficult to fall asleep when you’d like to.
As you can see, these 3 components have a major impact on sleep and can be improved and optimized with a consistent sleep schedule. Give it a shot and let me know if you have any questions!
These tips are not a replacement for assessment and treatment by a sleep specialist, physician, and/or therapist.
For more support and guidance, book a consultation with me to get started with a specialized treatment for insomnia called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I).