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The Case for Sleeping Well

Bedtime worry. Staring at the ceiling. Watching the clock tick away hour after hour. Tired but unable to fall asleep. Ever been there? You're not alone. Gallup research has revealed that the time Americans spend sleeping has been steadily declining for the past 70 years. While only 3 percent of our grandparents and great-grandparents reported sleeping less than five hours per night in 1940, today that number has shot up to 14 percent in 2013.

It's perhaps no surprise to most people that we Americans are sleeping less hours per night than ever before. With the demands of work and home, the constant checking of handheld devices, i.e., smart phones, and 24-hour TV channels keeping us endlessly entertained, it's no wonder that so many are only sleeping 6-7 hours on average each night. According to a recent CDC finding, 35 percent of adults are skimping on sleep every night. It should be noted here that previous generations slept 8-9 hours per night on average when we were more of an agricultural society and things like TVs and smartphones were largely unknown.

A study published in the journal Sleep reveals that the number of people getting under six hours of sleep a night has increased over just the past 40 years, increasing our risk of obesity, heart attacks, workplace accidents and other serious issues along the way.

But there is good news for those that are interested in changing their sleep habits to get a better night's sleep--and it turns out to be simpler than most think.

1.) Turn off the TV! Netflix and veg out? More like Netflix and stay up all night worrying if that Black Mirror plot could actually happen in real life. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that watching TV before bed may make a person chronically sleep-deprived, as it often prompts people to go against their biological sleep cues. For a more restful evening, turn off the TV a few hours before bed and enjoy some less-disruptive activities, like reading, instead. But don't read with your Kindle. Turns out that blue light background actually wires the brain for activity, not sleep. Just pick up an old-fashioned book or magazine to read before bedtime.

2.) Before popping a sleeping pill each night as the answer for insomnia, take up an exercise regimen of some kind, even if it's walking around the block a couple of times each day. Exercise is a great way to develop healthier sleep habits and get yourself physically tired enough to crawl into bed. In fact, researchers at Northwestern University found that aerobic exercise significantly improved insomnia symptoms in a group of adult study subjects.

3.) Finally, put down your phone and turn it over so that the blue-light background doesn't light up the room. We all know how addictive the internet can be. However, putting down your phone will help you sleep better in the long run. A study conducted at the University of Haifa reveals that the blue light emitted from devices like phones reduces sleep duration, so if you want to wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, turn your phone off before bed, or, better yet, keep it out of reach entirely.

There is one last technique that has proven to be extremely effective for those that have tried everything else and are still having difficulty falling asleep. It's the practice of sitting down just before bedtime for five minutes and writing down specific thoughts about the day, any frustrations, difficult situations, good experiences and then things that need to be accomplished the next day. The interaction between the unconscious brain and the simple act of writing down concerns and things that need to be accomplished the next day allowed test subjects in another study on sleep aides to fall asleep much faster and benefit from a better night's sleep. It's definitely worth trying if you fall into the category of a hopeless insomniac and even those with occasional insomnia should consider this useful technique.

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