How much is too much sleep? How much is not enough? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that sleep-related problems affect 50-70 million Americans of all ages and socioeconomic classes. The cumulative effects of sleep loss and sleep disorders represent an under-recognized public health problem and have been associated with a wide range of health consequences including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, stroke, and at-risk behavior. National Sleep Awareness Week is happening March 5-12 of this year. It was created to spread awareness about how getting the right amount of sleep is essential to your health.
Research by the NIH has uncovered the following statistics:
- 1/3 of Americans get fewer than 7 hours of sleep per night
- 12-18 million adults in the U.S. have sleep apnea
- $50 billion is lost in productivity annually from lack of sleep
- 70% of high school students are not getting enough sleep on school nights
- Insufficient sleep and insomnia are more prevalent in women
- 5000-6000 fatal car crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers
- 1/3 of adults are sleepy during daylight hours on a daily basis
For years you have heard people say “You need eight hours of sleep.” But this is just the average. Sufficient sleep duration requirements vary across the lifespan and from person to person. The National Sleep Foundation put together an expert panel to evaluate sleep. The table below includes their results.
While it’s easy to say “You’re 30 years old, so make sure to get between seven and eight hours of sleep,” it’s hard to consistently do so. If you find yourself tired during the day or restless at night, try some or all of the following sleep practices to help improve your sleep:
- Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock (circadian rhythms) and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.
- If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
- Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.
- Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep but also free of allergens that might affect you.
- Use bright light to help manage your circadian rhythms. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms (body clock) in check.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. If you can, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.
- Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. For some people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep, because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.
- If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It is best to take work materials, computers, and televisions out of the sleeping environment. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine.
Can My Lack of Sleep Affect Buying Life Insurance?
Sleep apnea and insomnia are two of the most obvious sleep-related medical conditions that can affect your life insurance underwriting. But hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke also can come into play – so getting enough sleep is important for you and your wallet!
Term life insurance is quite affordable and can fit into most budgets, but if you have medical issues, they can cause your insurance to be more expensive to purchase. An applicant with one or more medical conditions that increase risk of mortality, in other words increase your chances of dying prematurely, will be considered risky to insure. To offset the carrier’s risk, they ask the applicant to pay a little more.
Studies have shown that not enough sleep and too much sleep are significant predictors of death. Not enough sleep causes changes in levels of leptin and ghrelin (a.k.a. hunger hormones) which in turn increases one’s appetite, calorie intake, reduces energy expenditure, and facilitates the development of obesity and impaired glycemic control with increased cardiovascular risk. Too much sleep could be symptoms of depression, but it also creates a low level of physical activity and poor general health. Low economic status and unemployment are also associated with too much sleep, and statistically both factors correlate with higher mortality rates.
The results of those studies may seem a little obnoxious on the surface, but the life insurance industry relies solely on statistics. When you buy life insurance, you buy it so you can leave your family money if you died prematurely. Life insurance companies gamble that you are actually going to live, instead of die. If you live – hooray for you and your family! If you die, the life insurance company has to shill out thousands (perhaps millions) of dollars to your loved ones.
Life insurance companies work with actuaries who calculate the mortality risk of every single health and lifestyle factor possible to determine how much a person’s life is worth to insure. It sounds morbid, and it technically is, but if life insurance companies let John Smith, the sickest man in the world, pay the same for life insurance as Sam Johnson, the healthiest man in the world, it would not be fair to Sam and the life insurance companies would quickly become bankrupt and no families would be able to purchase life insurance.
You’ve heard it here. Sleep is important – maybe even more important than you originally thought. It’s National Sleep Awareness Week. Motivate yourself to change your sleeping patterns if you need to. If you have tried different routines and nothing is helping, speak to your doctor or a sleep professional.
Photo credit to: Donnie Ray Jones