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How to Escape the Insomnia Epidemic

Updated: May 26



“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”


To date, this is the name of 4 songs, an album, a film, and an autobiography of a deceased rock star. For many people, it is also the statement they make when supervisors pile yet another project onto their already overflowing plates or when friends pressure them to go out late at night.


Western cultures are notorious for reserving only a few hours for sleep, lying awake with anxiety ridden ruminations, pressing snooze until the last possible moment, over-caffeinating throughout the day, over-consuming sugary substances, and popping over-the-counter or prescription sleep medications in hopes that somehow the endless cycle might finally be broken. (Even that sentence was exhausting)


What is worse is that this type of irregular and unhealthy cycle *seems* to be normal because, well…everyone is living in it. In effect, this pattern has become “normalized” (which is to say that is very common) but it is important to consider the distress and dysfunction that arise over time.


For an adult (age18-64), the recommended amount of sleep is actually 7-9 hours per night. Of course, most individuals do not get that much sleep. One poor night might not feel very impactful; however, with enough sleep lost over time, this becomes chronic sleep deprivation. All of a sudden, the fact that this pattern is so typical in western society might explain the preponderance of folks exhibiting chronic fatigue, brain fog, irritability, mood swings, trouble coping with stress, and difficulty concentrating. It might also help to explain why so many suffer with anxiety, depression, chronic diseases, and unhealthy weight.


It turns out that sleep is responsible for keeping many basic bodily processes on track. One might say that powering down for the night allows individuals to begin a new type of “work.” There are four distinct sleep stages that allow bodies and brains to perform functions such as relaxing muscles, regulating breathing and heart rate, repairing from injury, and preparing to feel refreshed for the next day. The most important of the stages is called REM (“rapid eye movement”) sleep. REM is not only the time for vivid dreaming, it is also when brains consolidate all of the new information that individuals learn throughout the day into long-term memory. Translation: cramming all night for an important presentation in the morning? Bad idea! Without sleep, this gives the brain no time to store that knowledge into long-term memory. This typically leads to what feels like memory loss but what is actually a failure to encode the information into memory to begin with.


Although it might seem counter-productive, strategically scheduling periods of good sleep might help with day-to-day performance more so than staying up to do more reading or planning. From a long-term standpoint, better sleep has certainly been shown to lead to better health.


For those who are ready to promote sleep to the top of their priority lists, we can offer the following recommendations:

  1. Educate yourself on the science of sleep. The Sleep Foundation website is a great resource. Here is a link to a recent blog aptly entitled Why Do We Need Sleep?

  2. Consider revamping your nightly routine to include good “sleep hygiene.” Sleep hygiene refers to a set of behaviors that improve a person’s ability to wind down, drift off to sleep in a timely manner, stay comfortably asleep, and awake refreshed and ready for the day. The CDC recommends the sleep hygiene guidelines created by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. They offer some great Quick Sleep Tips.

  3. For those feeling too overwhelmed to begin, you are welcome to contact our team at Skyline Psychotherapy & Assessment Services, PLLC. Our doctoral-level psychologists are well versed in good sleep hygiene, relaxation techniques, and the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques recommended by the major organizations listed above. We offer free phone consultations and can answer any questions or address any concerns that you might have. Use the contact form on our website or schedule a consultation yourself.



Resources:

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/why-do-we-need-sleep


https://summer.harvard.edu/blog/why-you-should-make-a-good-nights-sleep-a-priority/

https://sleepeducation.org/healthy-sleep/healthy-sleep-habits/

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