Beautiful, wonderful sleep is essential and crucial for a person’s health and well being. Unfortunately, millions of people do not get sufficient sleep. Fluctuating moods, irritable relationships, flattened emotional responses, and slowness of speech are some signs that a person may not be getting enough sleep. People who are deprived of sleep may actually become apathetic, suffer from impaired memory, and find themselves unable to do more than one thing at a time.
Some individuals in research studies say they are able to function effectively each day with only six hours of sleep the night before. In general, though, most normal adults need an average of eight hours of sleep each night to be ready for sixteen hours of effective wakefulness the next day. Some people need at least ten hours of sleep each night before they can function effectively the following day.
In the United States, according to the National Highway Safety Administration, nodding off while driving is responsible for at least 100,000 crashes, 71,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths each year. Young Americans in their teens and twenties are especially vulnerable to chronic sleep loss.
As it turns out, teenagers and young people in their twenties are involved in more than half of the nodding off while driving crashes on America's highways each year. The Department of Transportation estimates that one to four percent of all highway collisions occur when people fall asleep at the wheel, with four percent of these crashes being fatal.
According to researchers, the stress in a person’s life is the primary cause of short term sleeping problems. Common sources of stress include feeling overwhelmed at school, experiencing pressures at work, going through too many family or marital concerns all at once, and suffering serious illness or dealing with death in the family.
For young people in school, sleep problems interfere with learning. Sixty percent of grade school children and high school students have reported feeling sleepy in school. Fifteen percent have reported actually falling asleep in class.
Sleep may be particularly difficult for about 20 percent of employed people in the United States. If you are a shift worker in America, your work schedule requires that you try to sleep during the day, when the rest of the world is noisily awake. One study has found that shift workers are up to five times more likely to become sleepy during their evening jobs than employees who work regular, daytime hours.
Sleep problems usually disappear when stressful situations eventually subside. If sleep difficulties are not dealt with effectively, though, sleep problems can persist for a long time after the original stressful situations eventually come to an end.
The environment around you can affect your ability to sleep. All kinds of things, such as your bed being too hard or too soft, can prevent you from sleeping soundly. A bedroom that is too hot or too cold, or too noisy or too bright, can diminish a person’s ability to fall asleep and remain sleeping restfully.
Someone else’s sleep difficulties, such as the snoring or restlessness of your sleep partner, can affect your ability to sleep restfully. Interruptions from children or other family members can also disrupt sleep. Some people find it easier to sleep if the soft noise of a whirring fan is the background sound in their room.
Drinking beverages containing alcohol or caffeine in the afternoon or evening can disrupt sleep. Intensive morning and evening activities are other behaviors that can interfere with sleep. Working late or exercising in the evening, close to bedtime, or doing other intense activities right before going to bed can also be detrimental to restful sleep. Traveling across time zones is known to cause jet lag, and can also disrupt sleep.
A person’s physical ailments can interfere with the ability to fall asleep and maintain restful sleep. A person with arthritis or other painful condition can find it very difficult to sleep well.
Hormonal changes in women, such as premenstrual syndrome or menopause, and consequent hot flashes, can make it difficult to sleep. Medications such as decongestants and medicines intended to reduce high blood pressure, asthma, or depression, can sometimes interfere with a person’s ability to sleep restfully.
Mental health professionals have learned that some psychiatric disorders make it difficult to sleep. Nightmares — dreams with vivid, strongly intrusive, disturbing content — seem to be common with children during random eye movement (REM) sleep. Nightmares can result in children waking up suddenly, and being afraid of their dream experiences.
Sleep terrors — even more intense and vivid than nightmares — seem to occur most often during childhood. Sleep terrors usually occur early at night, and sometimes include sleepwalking. Children seem to have no memory, or only slight recollection, of their sleep terrors.
Research studies have shown that millions of Americans suffer from many different sleep disorders. Such studies show that 60 percent of adults have reported having sleep problems. More than 40 percent of adults say they experience sleepiness severe enough to interfere with their daily activities. Nearly 70 percent of children in studies say they experience sleep problems during an average week.
Sleep researchers recommend a few basic common sense habits to help prevent sleep problems:
Avoid caffeine before going to bed, and avoid or minimize daytime use
Do not smoke, especially around bedtime, or if you wake up at night
Avoid alcohol and heavy meals before going to bed
Minimize noise, light, and temperatures that are too hot or too cold where you sleep
Go to bed at the same time each night
Try to wake up without an alarm clock
Get regular exercise
Here are some more sources of helpful information: