Each night, millions of people struggle with falling or staying asleep, and the chief cause is insomnia.
About one-third of Americans experience insomnia at least occasionally, and for 15-20 percent, the problem can last up to three months. For one in 10 Americans, insomnia is a long-lasting, chronic problem, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says.
Fortunately, a few simple strategies are all it takes to conquer the problem, for most Americans experts say. Among the most important: Avoiding electronic devices at bedtime, says sleep expert Dr. Ari Shechter, Ph.D.
“Most people use light-emitting electronic devices, such as smartphones and laptops, before bedtime despite the fact that such behavior is associated with insomnia,” Shechter tells Newsmax Health.
Insomnia, which is the most common sleep disorder in the U.S., can increase the risk of depression, blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, studies show. It also robs people of their quality of life, causing fatigue, inability to concentrate, poor memory, mood disturbances, low energy, and daytime sleepiness, which can result in increased workplace errors and car accidents.
The problem is also getting worse. Today, Americans average less than seven hours of sleep a night, which is two less than in 1910, the National Institutes of Health says.
There are many causes of insomnia, including stress and poor sleep habits, but our modern lifestyle — particularly the use of electronic devices at night — also is taking a toll.
The LED displays on such devices emit “blue light” waves, says Shechter, associate professor of medical sciences at New York City’s Columbia University Medical Center.
Although such waves are beneficial during the day — they boost attention, your reaction time, and mood — they are detrimental at bedtime because such light suppresses melatonin.
Melatonin is the body’s natural “sleep hormone,” secreted by a gland in the brain in response to darkness, and helps to regulate our body clock.
“Ninety percent of people use these electronic devices within an hour of going to bed, so I think it would be impossible to get them to give them up,” says Shechter.
Shechter has studied the benefits of wearing amber-tinted glasses, which block out blue light.
His team at Columbia gave 14 people who suffer from insomnia amber-tinted glasses, and compared the duration and quality of their sleep with an equal number of people that wore clear lenses for two hours before bedtime.
Four weeks later, the participants switched glasses and repeated the protocol.
The researchers found that those who wore the amber-tinted glasses got 30 minutes more sleep. They also reported longer, better, and sounder sleep, and, overall, an improvement in their insomnia.
They also had lower blood pressure, according to the study, published in Journal of Psychiatric Research.
LED-lit electronic devices are only one of the causes of insomnia. Here are other ways of dealing with insomnia in general:
If you work night shifts, wear amber-tinted glasses on your drive home from work or during the morning hours to trick your body into thinking it’s night time.
Avoid bright light in the hour before bedtime, along with activities that might boost your alertness, like reading emails or watching a scary movie. Reading a book is a better choice.
If you are prone to sleeplessness, use the bedroom primarily for sleeping, not for other activities.
Limit caffeine. Sensitivity to caffeine varies, so cut it out earlier and earlier, to find out when your cutoff point should be. This also goes for caffeinated teas as well.
Make sure your room temperature is comfortable for sleeping.
Try a warm bath before you go to sleep. Warm water helps widen the blood vessels, which allows you to let off excess body heat, lowering your temperature, which makes it more conducive to sleep.
Don’t take daytime naps.
Don’t become dependent on sleeping pills. Such medications act as sedatives, carry side effects like confusion or drowsiness, and may cause dependence. If you do take them, discuss their use with your doctor. Melatonin may be a safer choice, but use the lowest dose possible, since you already have this hormone circulating in your body, notes Shechter.
Moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking, may help people with chronic insomnia fall asleep more quickly, stay asleep slightly longer, and have better quality sleep, the National Sleep Foundation says. Keep it moderate, though – the same study found no such benefits for vigorous aerobic exercise (i.e. running), or strength training.
© 2018 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.