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Why Are You Really Tired?

Submitted by Craig Kelley and Christina L. Koch on June 13, 2013 – 6:58 pm

Sleep is a necessity for good health, top cognitive functioning, mood and wellbeing. According to a survey completed by the National Sleep Foundation, at least 40 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders and 60% of adults have problems sleeping at least a few nights per week.

Many who suffer from sleep disorders go undiagnosed or do not seek treatment if they have been diagnosed. This can interfere with activities, such as work, school or driving, causing safety concerns.

The Sleep Disorders and Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit published a study in 2004 that demonstrated that sleepiness takes a toll on effective decision making. The effects of sleep deprivation can cause injuries at work or behind the wheel of a car or tractor-trailer by slowing the reaction time or causing deficits in decision making ability.

According to the Department of Transportation, 1-4% of all highway crashes are due to sleepiness, and in rural areas, 4% of these crashes are fatal. There are a number of factors that increase the risk of driving drowsy, including late night or early morning driving, patients with untreated sleep disorders and people who obtain six or fewer hours of sleep a day. Certain occupations hold a higher risk as well, such as medical residents, who tend to work very long shifts or night shift workers and commercial truck drivers.

It is a common misconception that you actually need less sleep as you grow older. As you get older, you may find it is more difficult to stay asleep eight hours, however, the average person requires eight hours of sleep for health and wellness.

Some people actually may need a minimum of 10 hours of sleep each night in order to perform well. The length of time slept is important; however, it is equally important that the sleep is restful. Restorative rest value is diminished when a person sets their alarm for a shorter period and hits the snooze alarm over and over as it reduces the restorative value of the rest a person gets throughout the night, according to Rush University Medical Center psychologist Edwards Stephanski, Ph.D. This is known as sleep fragmentation and refers to the shortening of REM sleep cycles (rapid eye movement), which is when deep sleep and dreaming occurs.

There are steps that can be taken to ensure you get enough sleep. First and foremost, have a regular routine for your wakeful hours and your sleep hours. It is important to develop a regular bedtime and go to bed the same time each night, even as an adult. Plan out your schedule to get eight hours of sleep per night.

If you or a loved one believes you have a sleeping problem, you should keep a sleep diary and see your doctor. Some sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, can be dangerous if not treated. Remember not to drive or operate machinery if you are drowsy and make getting enough sleep a priority in your daily life.

Poll: Exercise Key to Good Sleep 

Exercise can affect your sleep. The results of the National Sleep Foundation’s 2013 Sleep in America poll show a compelling association between exercise and better sleep.

“Exercise is great for sleep. For the millions of people who want better sleep, exercise may help,” says David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation.

Exercisers Say They Sleep Better

Self-described exercisers report better sleep than self-described nonexercisers even though they say they sleep the same amount each night (6 hours and 51 minutes, average on weeknight). Vigorous, moderate and light exercisers are significantly more likely to say “I had a good night’s sleep” every night or almost every night on work nights than non-exercisers (67%-56% vs. 39%).

Vigorous Exercisers Report the Best Sleep

Vigorous exercisers are almost twice as likely as non-exercisers to report “I had a good night’s sleep” every night or almost every night during the week.

They also are the least likely to report sleep problems. More than two-thirds of vigorous exercisers say they rarely or never (in the past 2 weeks) had symptoms commonly associated with insomnia, including waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep (72%) and difficulty falling asleep (69%).

Non-exercisers are Sleepiest, have Highest Risk for Sleep Apnea

Non-exercisers tend toward being more excessively sleepy than exercisers. Nearly one-fourth of nonexercisers (24%) qualify as “sleepy” using a standard excessive sleepiness clinical screening measure. This sleepiness level occurs about twice as often than for exercisers (12-15%).

Also, about six in 10 of non-exercisers (61%) say they rarely or never have a good night’s sleep on work nights.

Less Time Sitting is Associated with Better Sleep and Health

Separate from exercise, spending less time sitting may improve sleep quality and health. Those who sit for less than eight hours per day are significantly more likely to say they have “very good” sleep quality than those who sit for eight hours or more (22%-25% compared to 12%-15%).

Furthermore, significantly more of those who spend less than 10 hours per day sitting mention excellent health, compared to those who spend 10 hours or more sitting (25-30% compared to 16%).