When I was a teenager, sleeping until the early afternoon was effortless—as a matter of fact, I think it was nearly impossible for me to get anything less than 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep. But as I got older, I noticed my body would naturally wake itself up at 6:30 a.m., and getting back to sleep was completely hopeless.
Now that I’m in my 30s, my sleep patterns have changed so drastically that “sleeping in” means waking up by 8 a.m., and I’m lucky if I only have to use the bathroom once in the middle of the night. It’s also difficult for me to fall asleep without tossing and turning for at least an hour before finally dozing off. After discussing my own sleep situation with my close friends and family, I learned that these sleep issues are more common than I thought. So I went to two New York–based sleep experts and medical professionals to get a clearer insight about the importance of quality sleep, and how it—and the lack of it—impacts our overall health.
Why It’s So Hard to Fall Asleep—and Stay Asleep
As we get older, there are many reasons why we can’t fall asleep as easily as we used to. To get a better understanding of this familiar topic, we spoke with Janet Kennedy, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist at NYC Sleep Doctor who specializes in treating sleep disorders.
“One of the biggest reasons people have difficulty falling asleep is because of technology,” Kennedy says. “We’re very much attached to our phones and other devices, which can be distracting when trying to go to bed each night. A great way to stay off of your device is by keeping it in a different room before getting into bed.”
While I’m certainly guilty of late-night scrolling and online shopping from time to time, I’ve noticed that even the blaring blue light from my TV has begun to impact the quality of my sleep.
In addition to digital disruptiveness, Kennedy points out another reason we can’t turn off our brains at night: stress. “With busy schedules, careers, caring for family, and so on, it’s overwhelming to process everything during the day,” she says. “So when our heads finally hit the pillow at night, we can’t help but think about all of the things we still need to do.”
According to The Philips 2019 global sleep survey, worry and stress were the number-one lifestyle factors cited for impacting participants’ ability to fall asleep and/or sleep well. Another survey conducted by Well+Good found the same thing: Participants named stress (over everything from money to work to family and relationship issues) as the leading cause for their sleeplessness.
Overheating, or night sweats, is another huge sleep inhibitor for many adults, especially women. A recent sleep habits survey by sleepwear and intimates brand Soma found, unsurprisingly, that about half of participants claim to have difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, with 57 percent pointing fingers at a restless mind—or being unable to turn off their brains at night. But in addition to the familiar stress factor, an overwhelming 36 percent of respondents also said their sleep suffers due to being too hot or sweating in the night. Any number of common factors, including fluctuating hormones, blood sugar levels, and certain medications, can lead to night sweats. In fact, Soma’s survey revealed that being hot is a more common sleep issue than snoring (which only about 24 percent complained about).
How to Get More (and Better) Sleep
The first step to improving your quality of sleep is to make sure your bedroom is comfortable, calming, and serene. “Your bedroom should be a place you can retreat to at the end of an exhausting day,” Kennedy says. “If your room is cluttered or chaotic, it’s going to impact how you sleep.” She also mentions that creating a bedtime routine can be extremely beneficial. “Try to create a 30-minute ritual before bed like reading a book, journaling, or meditation.” (We’re also fans of taking awarm bath or shower an hour before bed, or try a gentle, nightly stretching routine to wind down.)
If you’re often woken up from night sweats, it may be worth investing in some temperature-conscious bedding and cooling sleepwear, in addition to keeping your bedroom at a chill, National Sleep Foundation–recommended 67 degrees to promote Zzzs.
Why Getting Enough Sleep Is Essential to Your Overall Health
For children and adults, getting the right amount of good quality sleep is imperative for both mental and physical health: Your mental health, mood, immune system, memory, focus, productivity, energy, appetite, heart health, and even life longevity can all falter without adequate nightly rest. The general sleep recommendation for adults, according to The National Sleep Foundation, is between 7 and 9 hours per night, but it can differ from person to person.
“People with chronic sleep disorders are at higher risk of developing health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and depression,” says Edward Fisher, MD, PhD, MPH, a member of the Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at NYU School of Medicine. “This means that some of the diseases that cause sleep disorders can become worse from poor quality or quantity of sleep in a vicious cycle.”
If you feel like you may have a sleep disorder like chronic insomnia or sleep apnea, Dr. Fisher suggests discussing it with your doctor. “He or she may be able to begin treatment, or, if not, can recommend you to specialized sleep centers,” he says. “They have the advanced testing equipment and medical professionals needed to accurately diagnose and treat a variety of sleep disorders.”
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