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Rest Assured, It's National Sleep Awareness Week

Experts offer sleep tips.

This week, I am honing in on our household nocturnal routines. 

March 5 to March 11 is designated as National Sleep Awareness Week. My husband, daughter and I could pose for a portrait of the all-American sleep- deprived family.   

I have begun to sleep with a pillow over my head to muffle the sound of my husband's snoring. As if recurrent insomnia wasn't cause enough for my ever-present sleeplessness. My bed partner robs me of REM sleep with a cacophonous concert playing through his nose and mouth.

He is unaware of his nightly noises until I nudge him in the side and tell him to roll over. My harrumphing produces little effect, except to fire my exasperation. He feels for me, but he has his own exhaustion to contend with.  

Getting up at 4:30 a.m. each work day, he operates on six hours of sleep a day. This is significantly less than the seven to nine hours of sleep recommended by the National Sleep Foundation for healthy functioning. According to a recent CDC study, he is among the approximately one-third of adults in our country who come up on the short end of sleep.

When our daughter disturbs my husband's bedtime with a particularly loud and late Skype conversation in her room, he complains that lack of sleep will be the death of him. Is this the ranting of a fatigued addled mind, or does his lamentation have a basis in reality?

Studies have shown that insufficient sleep is associated with a higher incidence of mortality.

Sleep problems correlate with chronic physical diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Depression and anxiety can be exacerbated by chronic sleep loss. These conditions are the stuff of nightmares we would be having if only we could sleep long enough to dream them.

Our teenage daughter rarely gets the 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep recommended for those in her age bracket. As she edges closer to obtaining her driver's license, we have one more reason to lose sleep. Younger drivers (age 25 and under) are responsible for more than half of the 100,000 yearly car crashes incurred by those driving while drowsy.

My husband often takes the MBTA commuter train to work and leaves the driving to someone else. When he gets a seat, he seizes the opportunity for a few minutes of shut-eye. The results of a 2012 Sleep in America poll suggest he should keep his eyes open.  

The Sleep In America Foundation surveyed a large sample of transportation workers and non-transportation workers and found that about one quarter of the transportation workers, including train operators and pilots, admitted to sleepiness interfering with their performance on the job once a week. "Near miss" accidents due to sleepiness were reported by 18 percent of the train operators and 11 percent of the pilots.

My family, like so many others in our country, is hungry for sleep. On Sunday, at the end of National Sleep Awareness Week, we'll be ravenous. We lose an hour of sleep. We spring forward to turn our clocks ahead. In honor of the time change, I'll be buying myself earplugs and a sleep mask.     

Start Daylight Saving Time with these tips from experts for more nourishing sleep habits:

  • Maintain the same bedtime and waking schedule during the week and on weekends.
  • Regular exercise promotes healthy sleep, but avoid physical activity in the two to three hours prior to turning in for the night.
  • Avoid eating large meals before bed, but don't go to bed on a completely empty stomach.
  • Alcohol and caffeine consumed close to bedtime can disrupt sleep.
  • Smoking, especially before bed, leads to poor sleep quality. 
  • Create a comfortable sleeping environment: block out light and sound, maintain a moderate room temperature, and ensure adequate ventilation. 
  • Develop a soothing bedtime ritual such as listening to music or reading.
  • Seek professional help from your doctor or a sleep specialist for persistent sleep difficulties such as snoring (which can be a symptom of sleep apnea), chronic insomnia, or excessive daytime sleepiness.
Anne Smithson March 09, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Good sleep is so important, but I think the hectic pace of life makes good sleep really difficult. I have been using guided meditation through healthjourneys.com/insomnia.asp and it's helped me. I find that it does not require me to change my bedtime routine much but really helps me relax and drift into a deep sleep.
Elissa C. Rosenthal March 10, 2012 at 03:43 PM
You're right, Anne. Our bodies rush around during the day, and our minds rush around at night, when we should be sleeping. Thanks for the helpful link to relax the body and mind to aid in sleep.

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