The Shockingly Simple Sleep Fix
In my clinical practice I would often hear patients complain about their poor sleep and the devastating impact it was having on their lives. They’d talk about how it was creating depression. How they didn’t have enough energy to get them through the day. They weren’t able to enjoy friends and family or perform their best at work. Their sleep problems were literally sucking the life out of them.
Unfortunately, their experiences are all too common. In primary care medical practices nearly 70% of patients complain about poor sleep. An estimated 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder, with insomnia affecting 15% of the population.
There are many explanations for why folks aren’t sleeping well. Hormonal imbalances, especially for women during and after menopause or men with low testosterone. Anxiety regarding relationships, money issues or family matters. And two of the most common sleep destroyers: smartphones and tablets.
Recently Fitbit made a discovery that could help millions of people fix their sleep. Fitbit is the company that sells one of the most popular wearable sleep tracking devices. Millions of people have Fitbits and use them to record and track their sleep and how they’re doing from night to night. Well, Fitbit tracked over 6 billion nights’ sleep of Americans, and what they found out about our sleep habits is shocking, and how most people are ruining their health one sleep-deprived night at a time.
Now, what’s not surprising is how important sleep is. We need restorative sleep to enhance our immune system, to give ourselves energy and vitality, to feel our best, to be able to interact during our day, and accomplish what we want. Sleep deprivation is a risk factor for depression, heart disease, diabetes, drying early and Alzheimer’s. Chronically being sleep-deprived, in a word, is not good. What Fitbit found out, first and foremost, that’s not a surprise, is that the average night’s sleep for men and women is about six and a half hours a night. That’s not enough. We know that we all need at least seven and a half to eight hours of consistent sleep a night to be our best.
What Fitbit found out that is so surprising, however, is that most people are inducing their own sleep deprivation and health problems by a phenomenon they call, “Social Jet Lag.” They discovered that on average, people are going to bed at about 11:20 pm during the week, and on weekends they’re staying up later. This inconsistently in sleep–not going to bed at the same time every night–really messes up our circadian rhythms. It makes it hard to fall asleep. And once you get to sleep, it makes it hard to have good, restorative, deep sleep. What they found out is the simple solution is consistency.
Now that shouldn’t be a shock to anybody out there, because consistency is key for almost everything we do in life. You want to build a business or really blow your career out of the water? Consistently doing the work and showing up every day is the only way to do it. You want to have good human interactions and intimate relationships with your partner, or have great friendships? Consistency is the key for that as well. Want to have phenomenal health? You have to consistently eat well. You have to exercise regularly. And now, thanks to Fitbit, we know that it’s important to consistently go to bed at about the same time every night. You have to train your body.
A few weeks ago in a Facebook Live I talked about the effects technology has on our brain chemistry. One thing it does is reduce melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that helps put us to sleep at night if we’re staring at the screen before we go to bed it depletes melatonin and it makes falling asleep difficult. I encourage you to go back and watch that if you want to learn more about this and the other health effects poor technology habits create in our daily lives.
With respect to sleep and technology, it’s very simple. Don’t look at the screen at night in bed. And go to bed every night at about the same time. If you’re struggling with social jet lag, understand that your body has to get accustomed to it, so your sleep may not magically improve the first night or two. Give it some time for your body to adjust to the new, healthier rhythm.
I hope you’re making health a priority, and part of that is focusing on sleep. I hope you start going to bed at a more consistent hour. Because if you don’t, and you’re consistently sleep-deprived, you’re not going to be able to show up and feel your best, do your best and have your best health.
Excellent health starts with the decisions you make every day. And consistently going to bed is something you can control. It doesn’t cost any money. It’s easy to do, and all it takes is making sleep a priority as part of your health goals so you can feel fantastic.
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Colton H, Altevogt B, eds. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. The National Academies Press; 2006:424 [Report]
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Pogue, D. Exclusive: What Fitbit’s 6 billion nights of sleep data reveals about us. Yahoo Finance. January 4, 2018. Accessed April 30, 2018. [Article]
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