For the last seven years, Crystal Lau hasn’t slept for more than three hours straight. The trouble began after this Vancouver-based audio engineer started working, essentially, around the clock. “I was interning during the day and working full-time in the evening and I’d only get about four hours a night,” she says. “Since then, I’ve never been able to sleep as well as I used to.”
Lau is not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 50 to 70 million US adults have some kind of sleep disorder. The organization found that 35 percent of people sleep less than seven hours a night.
Give yourself more time to sleep… and try to sleep the same amount of hours every night, rather than just bingeing on the weekends.
A lack of sleep might seem like a minor nuisance, but it’s a serious risk for our overall health, says Dr. David Dinges, an associate director of the Center for Sleep and Respiratory Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania. Poor sleep makes people more prone to mistakes, vulnerable to depression and it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, he says. Our sleep habits also get worse as we age. “Our brains simply can’t sleep as much as a young person’s can,” he says.
So how can we get a good night of shut-eye? “Make sleep a priority,” says Dr. Dinges. That involves giving yourself more time to sleep – start bed time earlier, he says – and try to sleep the same amount of hours every night, rather than just bingeing on the weekends.
It’s also a good idea to avoid computers, tablets, TVs and smartphones about 30 to 45 minutes before going to bed, says Dr. Nitun Verma, the medical director at Freemont, California’s Washington Township Center for Sleep Disorders. We’re too over stimulated by technology and try to do too much each day, he says, and that keeps us up. “The mind is the biggest enemy for sleep. Your brain needs time to calm down before you can fall sleep,” he explains.
Shutting off her brain is Lau’s biggest problem, but she’s found that a little yoga after work helps calm her mind. She’s now getting more hours of shut-eye, but she still has trouble sleeping straight through the night. “Hopefully in time, that sleep will come,” she says.