According to recent sleep research, North Americans are accumulating sleep debt like penny-ante gamblers racking up IOUs. During the week, instead of the recommended 8 hours, they get one hour and 6 minutes less. Even on the weekend, it is one half hour less per night. That adds up to being 338 hours (2 full weeks) short over a one year period. They are somnambulating through life, dangerously unaware of the risks to their health. Productivity, safety and overall well-being (both physical and mental) are at risk. This long-term sleep debt is a major factor in the rampant increase in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, increased auto-immune disorders, and even cancers.
Oddly enough, most people brag about how little sleep they get. That is akin to bragging about eating junk food or never getting up off the couch! This chronic condition plagues two thirds of adults and, in the United States alone, the total sleep debt is over 100 billion hours!! It is even thought that modern humans may not even know the sensation of being completely rested.
So what are the solutions? Certainly not caffeine and sleeping pills, although they definitely have a very faithful following, often with very negative side effects.
Many people will contend that just getting 8 hours of sleep is the solution, if they could just find the time. However, even 8 hours of poor quality sleep still leaves a huge sleep debt. Sleep disorders clinics have popped up all over North America to attempt to resolve the sleep challenges many people face such as sleep apnea, with limited success.
Let’s look at quality sleep for a moment. When we lived closer to nature, in other words before electricity and high pressure careers, people would pay attention to the rhythms of their bodies. When darkness comes, the pineal gland in the brain releases melatonin, a hormone signaling that it is time for sleep. As people went to bed, their breathing would slow, muscles grew limp, heart rate decreased, and body temperature dropped a tad. An EEG would show that the brain wave had changed from the rapid beta wave of daytime to slower alpha waves. Then alpha waves disappear, replaced by theta waves and the sleeper is now in the sensory void called Stage 1 sleep. From there, it is an elevator ride all night long through the various stages of sleep. Stage 2 lasts about 10 minutes and then Stage 3, a deep sleep with slow, lazy delta waves lasts for about 5 to 15 minutes before the sleeper descends to the deep delta waves of stage 4 for a half hour or so. After this 70 to 90 minute ride, the eyes move rapidly back and forth in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Then it’s back up the elevator to stage 2 to begin a second descent – then a third, etc. for approximately 8 hours.
A key factor in the quality of sleep is the sleep environment. The bedroom should be as dark as possible to facilitate the release of melatonin. Decreasing the amount of electrical and electronic smog in the bedroom is critical as well. Avoid sleeping on mattresses that contain metal coils as these coils conduct electricity which will interrupt the body’s natural sleep pattern and stress the body rather than relaxing it. Temperature is another important factor. As a matter of fact, in deep sleep the body loses its ability to control its temperature so sleeping in a smart technology such as comforters containing ceramic fibres that emit far infra-red energy to maintain appropriate temperature can help. Choose all natural materials for your sleep environment, including natural wood bed frames, as well as organic materials in the mattress, pillows and bedding. Check to make sure that these products have not been treated with fire retardant chemicals, etc. Choose a pillow that supports the neck properly to avoid neck strain and to allow relaxed, healthy breathing. If possible enhance your sleep environment with a mattress containing properly placed bio-magnetics. This energy replicates the earth’s natural magnetic field and allows the body to relax and reach the deeper levels of restorative sleep required for total recovery and repair. Enhancing the quality of the air in the bedroom with an air treatment unit that not only cleans the air but produces ozone-free negative ions will enhance the quality of sleep even more.
Sleep debt is avoidable, just as financial debt is. Invest in yourself so that you can build a sound physical future where waking up feeling refreshed every morning is a natural part of your wellness plan.