America’s Unsung Health Crisis— and What You Can Do About It
By Gus Stucki
How did you sleep last night? If you’re like over two thirds of America’s teenagers, probably not very well. While many health concerns, like diet, disease, and exercise, may often take the spotlight, the importance of sleep is something that feels lost on the public’s mind. It is crucial for promoting good health for your body and mind, and, if you aren’t getting good rest, you are setting yourself up countless problems down the line.
More often than not, it’s your own choices that hurt your sleeping life. With some discipline and some smart decisions, you have the power to fix it.
Though one’s ability to get a full eight hours isn’t always in their control, steps can be taken to improve their lifelong health through improving their sleep.
Sleeping on Sleep
The teenager is at the forefront of the subtle crisis of sleep in today’s world. According to a recent study by the Center for Disease Control, over a third of the U.S. reports being deprived of sleep. Among people under twenty years old, that statistic leaps to 68.8%. Young people are recommended to get 8-10 hours of sleep every night, though less than half of all teenagers come close to that threshold. The benefits of cutting hours are heavily outweighed by the drawbacks. Students can find themselves thinking less clearly and being less productive in their work without adequate sleep, as well as setting themselves up for debilitating or even deadly health problems later in life. In a recent study, the CDC found a strong correlation between sleep deprivation and your chance of developing several chronic conditions in adulthood. In the long term, getting poor rest makes you more likely to suffer from a heart attack, develop diabetes, or even cancer.
It is easy to point out the problem, but for most citizens it is a difficult one to remedy. Before one could look for solutions, though, it’s important to identify the many factors that lead to sleep deprivation—especially among young adults. In many cases, lifestyle choices are primarily to blame. In the student demographic, many people feel that getting good sleep just is not realistic. Colby Collins is a senior at Mossyrock High School. Between keeping up with multiple college-level classes, working a part time job, and finding some leisure time after it all, he often has a difficult time finding room for rest. “It’s tough to imagine how I could get everything that I want to do and get eight hours [sleep] at the same time,” as Collins stated. As most people’s lives will only become busier as they move on to college and beyond, the prospects for improving at all can seem bleak.
Bad to Worse
Still others suffer from even greater challenges in getting good rest. Far from a simple lifestyle problem, over 50 million Americans live with a serious sleeping disorder today. People with these conditions need to take special considerations to take care of themselves. They are often brought on temporarily by stress, illness, or other events, but in many people they become chronic. Insomnia, one such disorder, prevents over 10% of the population from easily going or staying asleep at night. In severe cases, it often requires medication to relieve.
On the other side of the spectrum, some rarer disorders can cause you to get too much sleep. These, including Hypersomnia and Narcolepsy, are characterized by uncontrollable daytime sleepiness and bring with them a host of other health and lifestyle problems.
If you believe you may have any of these conditions, It will likely be difficult or impossible to treat them on your own. The first step in remedying them is talking to your doctor, as high school teacher Casey Taylor can testify. Struggling with insomnia for most of his life, Taylor has always had to focus on taking care of his sleeping life. As an adult, he has worked with his doctors and uses prescriptions to stay on top of his condition.
The Bright Side
That is not to say, though, that you are powerless to improve your sleeping life. Some discipline, along with good habits, can help you make the most of whatever time you get for rest. Good sleep hygiene—habits that help your body sleep well—has been shown to get you to sleep faster, and improve the quality of the sleep you do get. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends several practices to achieve this. To see them all, I highly recommend checking their page linked at the end of the paper. In many cases, they can mitigate or even erase most sleeping disorders, and are often performed alongside professional care.
Some especially relevant suggestions include:
- Limiting exposure to blue light from electronics in the time before bed
- Avoiding physical exertion late in the day
- Keeping a consistent sleep schedule–even on weekends!
All of these activities affect your body’s natural cycles of day and night. Most other sleep hygiene tricks are similar in helping your body know when it is time to wind down.
Finally, if you find yourself lying in bed for twenty minutes or more without going under, get up! Do something that will help you relax, such as reading or yoga, and try again after a while. If you do so, it is important to physically move out of bed to another part of the room. Whenever you do anything other than resting while lying in bed, you are training your body to want to do that instead of going to sleep.
Practicing some or all of these habits is a surefire way to help you get the sleep you need. Today’s environment is counterintuitive for caring for one’s health in many respects, but by taking steps to promote good quality of sleep in yourself and others, at least one aspect of your wellbeing can be kept in check. Keeping on top of sleep can change your life for the better, and is something that needs to be treated with the importance it deserves. It is absolutely in your power to end your sleep deprivation.