Sleep-related problems cost Americans about $16 billion a year in medical bills.
A 2023 Web MD study finds that about a third of people surveyed (36%) said they actually slept for at least 7 hours. On average, sleep times was closer to 5.7 hours per night. 73% rated their sleep over the previous month as good or even very good.
Getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, mood disorders and obesity.
Insomnia causes additional stress and an imbalance in circadian rhythms, the body’s internal clock for our sleep and wake cycles.
Common causes of insomnia are consuming caffeine late in the day, anxiety, depression, muscle soreness, blue light, and artificial light exposure too close to bedtime. Additionally, racing thoughts, physical pain, and sickness make falling asleep even more difficult.
Insomnia is defined as difficulty initiating sleep and maintaining sleep. A lack of sleep must occur three nights per week for at least three months to be considered a true diagnosis of insomnia and a sleep disorder, according to the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR).
Reasons You Can’t Fall Asleep or Stay Asleep
Poor sleep hygiene includes going to bed at a time that does not align with your circadian rhythms. Additionally, artificial lighting should be used 30 minutes to one hour before bed. Not exercising can cause racing thoughts to keep you from falling asleep at bedtime. Blood sugar imbalances can cause an individual to wake up in the middle of the night hungry or struggle to fall asleep due to cravings.
Medications can also lead to insomnia when drugs like Sudafed cause increased heart rate or contribute to anxiety. The increased stress makes it more difficult to get restful sleep.
Balancing Stress and Sleep
Balancing stress is more than working an hour less or doing one hour of therapy monthly. Stress management includes a holistic approach, such as naturally increasing serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is a happy neurotransmitter, as well as a precursor to melatonin. By increasing positive habits in your life that increase serotonin, you can also increase your melatonin production, making it easier to fall asleep.
Mouth taping — the act of taping your mouth closed with skin-safe tape to force you to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth — is something some doctors and dentists recommend to increase the quality of sleep. Mouth breathing worsens obstructive sleep apnea.
According to a 2022 study, mouth taping improves this by reducing the snoring index by half. Getting better quality sleep causes an individual to wake up more well-rested. When sleeping better, one can achieve more throughout the day and then get on a more balanced sleep schedule, making it easier to fall asleep. Mouth taping helps humidify and filter what comes into the respiratory system. Taping is an effective alternative to a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device for those with mild sleep apnea.
Creating the Right Sleeping Environment
A cooler sleep environment lowers the internal body temperature and affects REM sleep, a deeper sleep stage. It also improves parasympathetic cardiac activity during stage 2 and slow wave sleep, which is the rest and digest autonomic nervous system stage.
Cold facial stimulation, cold air inhalation, and whole-body cooling create a change in parasympathetic activity. The calming effect occurs by a change in heart rate variability (HRV).
A deep dive into decades of sleep research found 29 studies showing evidence that exercise improves sleep and is preventive against 35 chronic health conditions. Four found no difference and one reported a negative impact of exercise on sleep.
Sleep issues and a lack of exercise increases an individual’s risk for chronic illness. Sleep restriction or a lack of sleep shows an impairment in immune function, glucose metabolism, cognitive decline, and appetite control.
Healthy Sleep Habits
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9-17 hours of sleep for newborns to school-aged children. Teenagers to older adults should get seven to 10 hours of sleep per night. These are minimum sleep guidelines to minimize the risk of chronic illness; however, an extra hour per age group can provide additional healing.
Exercise can improve sleep by reducing sleep latency and increasing slow-wave sleep, according to a 2021 medical study. Further, Johns-Hopkins found that folks who do at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise may see a difference in sleep quality.
Physical activity improves circadian melatonin rhythm and heart rate variability in another study. Participants were diagnosed with insomnia before sleep study administration. Study participants used aerobic exercise, resistance training, and yoga.
Participants used Tai Chi to compare the more effective forms of exercise that improve insomnia. Mind-body activities such as yoga and Tai Chi showed better mood, improved mental health, and improved sleep compared to the alternative forms of exercise. This improvement in sleep is due to yoga’s ability to decrease anxiety while helping people connect mindfully with their emotional needs and identify what a relaxed body feels like.
Stretching and progressive muscle relaxation improve sleep by relaxing the body and mind. These exercises are a mindful way of shutting off overthinking, mind racing, and tension held in the body that could be causing insomnia. A diagnosis of insomnia co-occurs with anxiety; by reducing anxiety symptoms, one can improve wakefulness as well.
Supplements such as magnesium bisglycinate, melatonin, passionflower, and other relaxing supplements improve sleep quality and duration. Magnesium bisglycinate is an easily digestible form of magnesium. The body produces melatonin based on our circadian body clock, light exposure, and serotonin levels. Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin.