May is Better Sleep Month!

I’m in! The aim of Better Sleep Month is to encourage people to establish better sleeping patterns, because the benefits of better sleep are known to improve our physical, emotional and mental health. Inadequate sleep can lead to an increase in blood pressure and stress hormone production. Some of the consequences of poor sleep include reduced concentration, mood instability, irritability, stress and a weaken immune system, according to the Better Sleep Council. They note that the release of stress hormones may perpetuate the unhealthy sleep cycle, making it harder to sleep. Stress can also elevate the blood pressure, leading to heart attacks and strokes. In severe cases poor sleep may be linked to narcolepsy, insomnia, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea.

The Better Sleep Council survey of 2008 showed that nearly two out of three respondents reported impaired sleep due to stress. One third of Americans experience poor sleep at least one night a week and 16 percent are diagnosed with stress-induced insomnia.

Stress is one of the most common causes of poor sleep. We all have worries such as child care, or elder care or worries about finances or personal relationships. Physical factors which can affect sleep include pain, excess sweating, need to urinate, and snoring (of self or partner) as well as light levels. Generally, women tend to be more sleep deprived than men, perhaps because they often have double duty working both a job and at home. Other factors which disrupt sleep include excitement, depression, anxiety and caffeine intake too close to bedtime. Some environmental factors to consider are room temperature, light levels, humidity, comfort of bedding and noise.

The National Sleep Council advises that the quality of sleep is perhaps more important than the quantity, although generally people need at least 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep a night. They state that 6 hours of refreshing sleep is better than 8 hours of light interrupted sleep. The Better Sleep Council survey of 2008 demonstrated that the main consequence of lack of sleep is decline in quality of work, judgement and concentration. Over 40 percent of the respondents to the survey stated that they were irritable due to lack of sleep. The estimates are the lack of adequate sleep costs U.S. businesses approximately $150 billion annually through absenteeism and lost productivity. Additionally, a phenomenon called “driving while drowsy” is implicated in nearly one out of every six fatal auto crashes according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. They state that sleep deprivation can lead to a level of impairment that is the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.1. This the same as driving after con- summing six alcoholic beverages! Sleep deficits are also associated with weight gain, diabetes, and decreased tolerance to chronic pain.

Counseling, meditation or relaxation techniques may help address stress due to personal problems. There is a very specific psychotherapeutic approach to managing sleep impairments called Cognitive–Behavior Therapy for Insomnia, which combines the cognitive aspect of stress and anxiety reduction with behavior changes such as establishing better sleeping routines and environments. Establish a consistent sleep schedule by sleeping at the same time each night. Relax before sleeping. You should limit any stimulating activities such as aerobic exercise (especially to loud and stimulating music) and instead read or relax with conversation. Create an optimal sleeping environment by having the room dark, ventilated and a comfortable temperature. It is best to leave your computer and TV out of the bedroom. Make sure that you have a roomy and comfortable mattress and a good pillow and comfortable bedding. Get exercise earlier in the day, eat healthily and avoid heavy meals as well as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol at night. Some people think that alcohol helps them sleep, but it does not promote quality sleep.

In my younger years I used to think that sleep was a waste of time. But as I now realize the benefits to a good night’s sleep in terms of my own productivity and how good it feels to wake up refreshed, I heartily endorse the idea of “Early to bed, early to rise…”


Jane Riley is a certified nutritional adviser on Kauai. She can be reached at, (808) 212-1451,


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