According to an Institute of Medicine Report, an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans chronically suffer from a sleep disorder, hindering daily functioning and adversely affecting health and longevity. The cumulative long-term effects of sleep loss and sleep disorders have been associated with a wide range of bad health consequences including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke. Hundreds of billions of dollars a year are spent on direct medical costs associated with doctor visits, hospital services, prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.
One group especially affected by sleep debt are busy executives. The segment of the work force has long worked 12- and 14-hour days. With the unemployment rising in corporations, many executives are spending even more time in the office. Long days, paired with economic uncertainty and global travel can find upper-level managers running on only four or five hours of sleep a night when they need at least eight.
Here are some tips to help busy executives cope with insufficient sleep:
- Since the dawn of time, humans have been programmed to be awake during the day and asleep at night. The closer you can adhere to those primitive biorhythms, the more civilized you'll feel.
- Keep yourself trim. Weight gain increases neck size, leading to respiratory difficulty. In men the magic number for neck size is 17 inches. In women, it's 15.5. Any larger than that, and you're at greater risk for sleep-disordered breathing.
- Avoid red-eye flights, which throw circadian rhythms into a tailspin. Instead, try to travel by day, and "put" yourself into a new time zone, if you're traveling internationally, by gradually adjusting your sleep schedule by 30 minutes a day the week before you travel.
- Limit your workday to 12 hours, if possible. After that, productivity declines dramatically, anyway, so it's better to start fresh in the morning.
- Give yourself time to wind down before bed. Your brain needs to segue from an adrenalin-filled workday to sleep. Avoid computers and other electronic devices an hour before bed. Instead, turn off your Blackberry and read a book or magazine-or take a hot bath.
- Exercise about six hours before sleep, even if you just take a walk. Exercise makes for sounder sleep and fewer nighttime awakenings. This is especially important for anyone over 40, the age when sleep begins to fragment.
- Never drive drowsy. Rolling down the windows or turning up the car radio won't help. In many states, drowsy driving is a punishable criminal offense, just like its counterpart, drunk driving.
- Naps can't replace a full night's sleep. In fact, naps can actually harm healthful sleep by throwing off the body's inner clock. If you must nap, do so for no more than 20 minutes, so you will remain in a lighter phase of sleep and can awaken without feeling groggy and out of sorts.
- Take an assessment to see if you have a sleep disorder.