#Health & Fitness

Snooze, You Lose: America’s Sleep Problem

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Snooze, You Lose: America’s Sleep Problem

Americans are known for a killer work ethic–one that oftens sacrifices sleep in favor of progress. 

Sleep: it’s annoying, really. It’s killing our productivity. Eight perfectly good hours a day—wasted.

This seems to be the mindset of most Americans these days. “We sleep on average about an hour and a half less a night than we did just a century ago,” National Geographic reveals. We’re getting around 6.7 hours a night, when most of us need seven to eight.

So why aren’t we sleeping enough?

And why do we even need sleep, anyway?

America, Wide Awake
Reportedly over 30 million Americans have insomnia. Whether it’s med-induced, stress-induced, genetic, a result of bad habits or too much coffee—even for no reason at all—one thing’s for sure: insomnia sucks. Some sufferers can’t fall asleep, others can’t stay asleep. Some even die (a very real condition called familial fatal insomnia, or FFI). That’s proof that we really do need to sleep to live.

Even losing a few hours here and there can take a troubling toll, adding up to impaired motor control, hallucinations, and memory loss. Going to work sleep-deprived is like clocking in drunk, says The Week. The ensuing under-productivity (or under-the-desk Costanza naps) can cost you your job.

Sleeping Pills—Gambling with Your Zzzz’s
Americans spend $4.5 billion a year on sleep medications, according to the New York Times. While meds are a quick fix, they may be a slow ruin too: “Pills can make future insomnia worse,” says writer D. T. Max, “a drawback called rebound insomnia.”

Actor Steve Martin can attest to the fact that sleep aids are a gamble—only he seems to have come out ahead! As told to David Letterman, after popping a pill, Steve went to bed … and awoke to discover he had played an unconscious game of midnight poker and won $1,000.

To Medicate or Meditate?
Nightly meditation might help you achieve a better night’s rest than you’d get with sleeping pills. While Steve Martin may have woken up richer, most sleeping-pill poppers wake up groggy and “hungover.” Many find that meditation, hypnosis, and other relaxation techniques help them correct some sleep disorders and get a deep, quality slumber.


Give In to the Post-Lunch Sleepies
More and more people are discovering the rewards of power napping. The pros at Bodybuilding.com encourage it. “Instead of trying to take supplements and stimulants,” they say, “your body might just need a simple nap.” 


Fitness author Joe Kita tried napping for a month and fell in love: “It’s as if I’ve discovered a new drug that I can take whenever I’m feeling fatigued and, thirty minutes later, I’m a new man.” (Notice he said thirty minutes. Indulge in a longer snooze and you’ll probably mess up your sleep schedule and wake up groggy.)

Sleepless in Seattle. And London. And Tokyo. And New York
“Sleep debt” must be more than a U.S. epidemic: sleep hotels are cropping up around the globe to offer a few more winks.

Following the Japanese lead, sleep hotels—a.k.a. nap spas—are appearing in cities and airports everywhere. Seeking refuge from high-powered careers and big city hustle-and-bustle, people are willing to fork out as much as $100 for a nap.

Also on the horizon: inflatable napping cocoons for a nap on-the-go. (Just don’t get mistaken for a homeless person in a sleeping bag!)

If You Want to Slim Down and Bulk Up, Snooze Accordingly
Regular exercise helps you sleep better. Maybe that’s because it’s a stress-reliever, an energy outlet, or because it makes you healthier in general. (Of course, it won’t help if you exercise right before bed.)

Regular sleep also helps you exercise better. If you’ve been lifting heavy but still look like a wuss, you probably need to give it a rest: chief muscle recovery time is when you’re sleeping. So if you aren’t sleeping smartly during your training program, you can kiss your dream of a six-pack good-bye.

Lack of sleep is also linked with obesity. According to the Washington Post, a conclusive study found a connection between decreased sleep time and obesity, perhaps due to its effect on hormones that regulate appetite. Their summary: “those between the ages of thirty-two and forty-nine who sleep less than seven hours a night are significantly more likely to be obese.”

Many scientists believe that our memories “set” during sleep. I guess that means if you want to remember to eat well and work out every day … you’d better remember to snag seven to eight hours of shut-eye, too.

How are your sleep habits? Take a fun quiz to find out if you have the right approach. (It told me I was no ‘Sleeping Beauty.’ I beg to differ!)