The relationship between sleep and exercise is the theme of this year’s National Sleep Foundation (NSF) Sleep in America poll, an annual checkup on Americans’ sleep health practices. The NSF will release the poll on March 4 at its annual Sleep Health and Safety conference, which also marks the start of National Sleep Awareness Week.
In last year’s poll, which addressed transportation workers’ sleep habits and work performance, about one-fourth of train operators and pilots admitted that sleepiness had affected their job performance at least once a week, compared with about 1 in 6 non–transportation workers. A significant number said that sleepiness had caused safety problems on the job.
In addition, roughly 1 in 10 Americans say they are likely to fall asleep at an inappropriate time and place, such as during a meeting or while driving.
The NSF suggests that persons who experience excessive sleepiness seek professional help to identify underlying conditions and try the following sleep tips:
• Go to sleep and wake at the same time every day. Avoid spending more time in bed than needed.
• Use bright light to help manage your “body clock.” Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning.
• To strengthen the association between your bed and sleep, use your bedroom only for sleep. Removing work materials, computers, and TV sets from the room may help.
• Select a relaxing bedtime ritual, such as taking a warm bath or listening to calming music.
• Create an environment that is conducive to sleep—quiet, dark, and cool with a comfortable mattress and pillows.
• Save your worries for the daytime. If concerns come to mind, write them in a “worry book” so you can address them the next day.
• If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. Exercise regularly, but avoid vigorous workouts close to bedtime.
• If you are experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness, snoring, or “stop breathing” episodes in your sleep, contact your health care professional for a sleep apnea screening.
The NSF also compiled the following list of common myths about sleep and the facts that dispel them:
Myth: Snoring is a common problem, especially among men, but it isn’t harmful.
Fact: Snoring may be harmless for most persons, but it can be a symptom of sleep apnea, especially if it is accompanied by severe daytime sleepiness.
Myth: You can “cheat” on the amount of sleep you get.
Fact: When persons don’t get adequate sleep, they accumulate a sleep debt that may be difficult to “pay back.” The resulting sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity and high blood pressure; negative mood and behavior; decreased productivity; and safety issues in the home, on the job, and on the road.
Myth: Turning up the radio, opening the window, or turning on the air conditioner are effective ways to stay awake when driving.
Fact: These actions are ineffective and can be dangerous to persons who are driving while feeling drowsy or sleepy. Caffeinated beverages may help overcome drowsiness for a short period, but it takes about 30 minutes before the effects are felt. The best prevention for drowsy driving is a good night’s sleep the night before a trip.
Myth: Teens who fall asleep in class have bad habits and are lazy or both.
Fact: Teens need more hours of sleep each night than most adults. Their internal biological clocks also keep them awake later in the evening and keep them sleeping later in the morning. Many teens come to school too sleepy to learn, through no fault of their own.
Myth: Insomnia is characterized by difficulty in falling asleep.
Fact: Difficulty in falling asleep is only one symptom associated with insomnia. The others include waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep, frequent awakenings, and waking up feeling unrefreshed. Insomnia may be a symptom of a sleep disorder or other medical or psychological/psychiatric problem and often can be treated.
Myth: Daytime sleepiness always means a person isn’t getting enough sleep.
Fact: Excessive daytime sleepiness can occur even after a person gets enough nighttime sleep and can be a sign of an underlying medical condition or sleep disorder, such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea. These problems often can be treated, and symptoms should be discussed with a physician.
Myth: Obesity, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, depression, and other health problems are unrelated to the amount and quality of a person’s sleep.
Fact: A relationship between the quantity and quality of sleep and many health problems has been found in many studies. For example, insufficient sleep affects growth hormone secretion that is linked to obesity—as the amount of hormone secretion decreases, the chance for weight gain increases.
Myth: The older you get, the fewer hours of sleep you need.
Fact: Sleep patterns change as persons age, but the amount of sleep that is needed generally does not. Older persons may wake more frequently through the night and may actually get less nighttime sleep, but their sleep need is no less than that of younger adults.
Myth: During sleep, your brain rests.
Fact: The body rests during sleep, but the brain remains active, gets “recharged,” and still controls many body functions, including breathing.
Myth: If you wake up in the middle of the night, it is best to lie in bed, “count sheep,” or toss and turn until you eventually fall back asleep.
Fact: Relaxing imagery or thoughts may help induce sleep more than counting sheep, which some research suggests may be more distracting than relaxing. If a person does not fall back asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, getting out of bed, going to another room, and engaging in a relaxing activity is recommended.