It’s time to face facts … we are a nation of sleepy people. Many of us just aren’t getting the 7-8 hours of sleep each night that experts recommend for good health. The reasons we are so sleepy vary from diagnosed sleep disorders to bad sleep habits to stress to overuse of technology. And unfortunately, we aren’t doing enough to address these problems.
When we don’t get the sleep we need it affects every area of our lives. It increases our risk for accidents of all kinds, decreases our cognitive abilities, and compromises our ability to manage our own moods. It is also really bad for your health. Sleep deprivation has been linked to everything from increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease to obesity. The research on sleep and it’s affect on our health and wellbeing that has been done in recent years increasingly highlights the importance of getting the sleep we need.
So why are almost half the adults in this country not getting the sleep they need for good health?
For some, sleep disorders both diagnosed and undiagnosed are the root cause. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 50-70 million American adults aren’t getting the sleep they need because they have a sleep disorder. For others it is working strange hours. Shift workers are prone to sleep challenges and many struggle to get the sleep they need on a regular basis. For the rest of us, the problem is most often bad sleep hygiene which basically means we are doing things that make it difficult to get a good night sleep.
Do you know how sleepy you are?
One of the biggest problems with so many of us being sleepy is that when you are sleepy you are not very good at gauging your level of sleepiness. This is one of thing that contributes to drowsy driving. When we are overtired, our decision making abilities can be as compromised as they would be if we were drinking lots of alcohol. This means we are more likely to do things we shouldn’t because we don’t realize how tired we are and how being tired can hurt us.
But not all sleepiness is created equally. According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 20% of us are more than just overtired; we are suffering from excessive sleepiness. Excessive sleepiness is characterized by feeling drowsy and sluggish almost every day regardless of how much sleep we get at night. Although they may sound the same, excessive sleepiness is different from fatigue. When we are fatigued, we have low energy and need rest but not necessarily sleep. When we are excessively sleepy, we feel like we could fall asleep at any moment and sometimes do.
Most of those who experience excessive sleepiness can point to one of two primary causes. The first is a sleep disorder like sleep apnea which causes excessive daytime sleepiness because it disrupts the quality of sleep the person gets. The other is bad sleep habits or poor sleep hygiene. Oftentimes we are our own worst enemy when it comes to safeguarding our sleep and we eat and drink the wrong things, exercise too little or at the wrong time, and try to sleep in less than optimal environments. Regardless of which of these is making you sleepy, you need to figure out how sleepy you are and then talk to your doctor about the problems you are having managing your sleep.
To determine how sleepy you really are, take this quiz from the National Sleep Foundation and then make an appointment to talk to your doctor.