Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
New Brunswick • Somerset

Paying Off Sleep Debt

While the current state of the economy continues to affect our spending habits and bank accounts, many people may not realize how the economic crisis is impacting their sleep health.

Debt, unemployment and other economic factors have contributed to a steady increase in stress and anxiety in the average American's life. Consequently, many of us are struggling with a different kind of debt-sleep debt-and might not even know it.

The National Sleep Foundation's 2009 Sleep in America poll focused on the current economy's effects on Americans' sleep. The poll found that almost one-third of Americans are losing sleep due to concerns about their personal finances. Thirty-one percent of Americans experience mood difficulties, such as worry, tension, anxiety and depression, which impact their sleep and health.

Further, the 2009 poll found that the number of Americans that get less than six hours of sleep per night has increased from 13 percent to 20 percent since 2001. Meanwhile, the number of Americans who claim to get eight hours or more per night has decreased by 10 percent since 2001.

Clearly, the current economic climate has negatively impacted Americans' sleep and health. When experienced over a long period of time, insufficient sleep can have detrimental effects on long-term and short-term memory, decision-making ability, math processing and many cognitive difficulties that are damaging to workplace performance and everyday life.

So, the question is: what can be done about all of this? While there is no "quick fix" for the nation's economy, there are a number of simple strategies for getting a better night's sleep, even amidst troubling financial times.

  • Keep a regular routine-wind down the same way each night, at the same time, and wake up at the same time each morning.
  •  Sleep in a relaxing, dark and cool environment, and avoid the use of electronics in the bedroom. This will help your brain to release sleep-inducing hormones.
  • Don't toss and turn-if you can't sleep, get out of bed and engage in a relaxing activity, such as reading. Only return to bed when you are relaxed and sleepy.
  • Don't face the clock and watch the minutes tick by. This will only add to your anxiety.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol after about 5 p.m.
  • Do not exercise within three hours of bedtime.
  • Allow yourself an hour to unwind before sleep.
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