There are many traits you can inherit from your parents. Some can be good, like a high metabolism, an easy sense of humor, or a great singing voice. But others can be downright bad—like insomnia.
Nearly one-third of American adults (about 40 million people) experience insomnia at some point in their life—be it difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. And now one cutting-edge study shows that not only is interrupted sleep as physically damaging as zero sleep, but it also can also reduce cognitive abilities, shorten your attention span, and even foster a negative outlook.
The study, conducted at Tel Aviv University’s School of Psychological Sciences and published in Sleep Medicine, 61 adults between the ages of 20 and 29 years were monitored on two separate occasions. The first was a “normal” night of sleep and the second was either restricted sleep (just four hours) or interrupted sleep (four pre-planned, prolonged awakenings over an eight-hour period). On both occasions, researchers measured sustained attention using an online continuous performance test (OCPT), as well as mood via the Profile of Mood States (POMS).
Researchers found that both sleep deprivation and interrupted sleep had the same impact on cognitive function and mood. Specifically, they found that there were more errors and omissions on the OCPT, as well as increased depression, fatigue, and confusion. Both groups also reported less energy and “vigor”—and all after just ONE NIGHT of interrupted or limited sleep.
The researchers concluded, “Our pilot study indicates that, similar to sleep restriction, one night of life-like repeated night-wakings negatively affects mood and sustained attention.” They believe this is particular important because “sleep research has focused in the last 50 years on sleep deprivation, and practically ignored the impact of night-wakings, which is a pervasive phenomenon for people from many walks of life.”
Clearly falling asleep, getting your eight hours, and getting them all in a row is a pretty powerful component of overall health. So how do you do that?
First, forget those over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids. Not only can they be dangerously addictive, but they also can leave you groggy and disoriented in the morning. Instead, rely on common sense…and Mother Nature.
First, create a sleep-promoting environment. Make sure your bedroom is dark. A very dark room stimulates natural production of melatonin. Research has shown that even minimal light such as those from a TV or even alarm clock can interfere with melatonin production. You may also want to use a white noise machine. The rhythmic humming of an air filter, dehumidifier, or a natural sounds machine can block outside noise and help you fall asleep faster.
Next, avoid caffeine at least six hours before going to bed. This includes sodas, tea, coffee and even chocolate. Caffeine is a stimulant and can stay in your body up to five hours and more in some people. Even if you think the caffeine is not keeping you awake, it could be impacting the quality of your sleep.
Lastly, work with your body’s natural rhythms rather than against them and give melatonin a try. This hormone helps to regulate your body’s natural rhythms, including waking and sleeping. It is produced in the body from serotonin and found in bananas, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers, and breast milk. Begin with a small dose (1 mg) at bedtime. For melatonin to be effective, your bedroom should be dark, as light destroys melatonin through the skin.
After a day or two of this routine, you should be nodding off—and staying asleep—in no time.