Sleeping beautyWe all know how great it feels to get a good night’s sleep.  You awake feeling refreshed and energized.  Unfortunately, most of us also know what it is like to have a poor night’s sleep.  Whether it is kids, stress, inability to turn your brain off, hot flashes or pain keeping you awake, not sleeping is no fun.  In this article let’s explore the most common sleep issues and discuss ways in which you can get a better night’s sleep.


Of all the sleep disorders, insomnia is the most prevalent.  It is characterized by an inability to initiate or maintain sleep.  As a result, one may get too little sleep or have poor-quality sleep and will likely not feel refreshed upon waking in the morning.

Insomnia can be acute (short-term) or chronic (ongoing).  Acute insomnia is common and often is brought on by situations such as stress at work, family pressures, or a traumatic event.  It can also be related to lifestyle factors such as poor diet (caffeine, spicy foods, and alcohol) and being sedentary.  Acute insomnia can last for days or weeks.

Chronic insomnia lasts for a month or longer.  Most cases of chronic insomnia are secondary, which means they are the symptom or side effect of some other problem. Certain medical conditions, medicines, sleep disorders, and substances can cause secondary insomnia.

Insomnia can cause daytime sleepiness and a lack of energy.  It can also cause feelings of anxiety, depression, or irritability.  Trouble focusing on tasks, paying attention, learning, and remembering can all be related to insomnia.  These problems can reduce performance at work or school.

Insomnia can have a very serious impact on quality of life and can cause other serious problems.

  • For example, feeling drowsy while driving could lead to an accident.
  • According to the National Sleep Foundation, those with insomnia are four times more likely to suffer from depression compared to those who sleep well.
  • When an individual is tired they are more likely to make poor eating decisions and feel less motivated to exercise or participate in social events.
  • Lack of sleep can contribute to absenteeism at work as well as increase the likelihood of illnesses.

The CDC estimates the direct cost of insomnia to be $14 billion, annually.  This includes money spent on treatment, health care services, and hospital and nursing home care.  The indirect costs, although more difficult to calculate, are estimated at $28 billion, annually.  This includes things like loss of time or productivity at work, property damage from accidents, and costs associated with getting to medical appointments.  Together, these figures exceed $40 billion each year!

The Importance of Sleep

Sleep is increasingly recognized as important to public health, since it is linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors. Unintentionally falling asleep, nodding off while driving, and having difficulty performing daily tasks because of sleepiness all may contribute to these hazardous outcomes.  Those not getting sufficient amounts of sleep are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.  Sleep insufficiency may be caused by broad scale societal factors, such as round-the-clock access to technology, and very demanding work schedules, but sleep disorders such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea also play an important role.  According to the CDC, an estimated 50-70 million US adults have sleep or wakefulness disorder.

In recognition of the importance of sleep to the nation’s health, CDC surveillance of sleep-related behaviors has increased in recent years.  Additionally, the Institute of Medicine encouraged collaboration between the CDC and the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research to support development and expansion of adequate surveillance of the U.S. population’s sleep patterns and associated outcomes.  Two new reports on the prevalence of unhealthy sleep behaviors and self-reported sleep-related difficulties among U.S. adults provide further evidence that insufficient sleep is an important public health concern.

According to the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Forty-eight percent of Americans report insomnia occasionally, while 22 percent experience insomnia every, or almost every night.
  • Women are 1.3 times more likely to report insomnia than men, particularly before and at the onset of the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, and menopause.
  • Those over the age of 65 are 1.5 times more likely to complain of insomnia compared to those younger.
  • Divorced, widowed, and separated people report more insomnia.

How Much Sleep? 

How much sleep one needs varies.  The National Institutes of Health suggests that school-age children need at least 10 hours, teens need 9-10 hours, and adults need 7-8 hours, of sleep each night.  Unfortunately, with hectic lifestyles and 24-7 access to the Internet, people are not getting nearly the amount of sleep they need for good health.  According to data from the National Health Interview Survey completed in 2007, nearly 30% of adults reported an average of less than 6 hours of sleep per night in 2005-2007.  No doubt, with the increase in the availability of technology since then, these numbers are most likely worse.

Getting a Better Sleep Naturally 

With so many Americans dealing with insomnia, the use of medications for sleep aid has soared.  According to the CDC, Nearly 9 million U.S. adults take prescription sleep aids.  A study published by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics noted that pharmaceutical companies reported an increased number of prescriptions filled for sleep medication in the last two decades.  This doesn’t include the use of over-the- counter aids that are easily accessible to anyone.

The use of prescription and over-the-counter medications to help with sleep isn’t always necessary and, of course, should be avoided if possible.  Researchers note that one of the important keys to obtaining a good night’s sleep is proper “sleep hygiene.”   Sleep hygiene refers to the habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis.  Some critical components to good sleep hygiene include the following:

  • Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning.
  • Avoid large meals before bedtime.
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and creates a relaxing environment.
  • Find a median temperature, which is neither too hot nor too cold.
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable and use it only for sleeping and not for other activities, such as reading, watching TV, or listening to music. Remove all TVs, computers, and other “gadgets” from the bedroom.
  • Avoid computer or cell phone use one hour prior to bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
  • Try not to drink too many fluids prior to bedtime, preventing the need to urinate during the night.
  • Avoid nicotine.

Of course, most importantly, exercise daily!  Exercise will help you relieve stress and send a message to your body that it needs to rest and recover.  Both will lead to a more restful sleep.  One word of advice, however, try to exercise earlier in the day, rather than shortly before bedtime because late night exercise can actually cause restless sleep.  By following good exercise and sleep hygiene guidelines, you will be on your way to a better night of sleep without the need for unnecessary medications.

Bernie Caplan is the President and founder of Spunk Fitness, a chain of health clubs headquartered in Maryland; a no frills/low cost club model that offers an exceptionally high value to its members.