Preparing the body for sleep is one of our most important daily rituals, although few people realize the importance it plays in maintaining good health. Our bodies need from seven to eight hours of sleep per night to adequately recharge. Many Americans chronically receive less sleep than they need, unwittingly increasing their health risk. Getting less than the optimum amount of sleep not only decreases our level of alertness the next day, it has been shown to contribute to obesity and diabetes, decrease our ability to fight off disease and infection, exacerbate anxiety and depression, and increase mortality.
The critical importance sleep plays in maintaining good health makes the rituals we practice to prepare our bodies for sleep vitally important. In a survey of 21,475 Americans aged 15 and older, more than 50% listed “watching television” as their most prevalent pre-sleep activity. Conducted by University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researchers Mathias Basner and David Dinges between 2003 and 2006, the American Time Use Survey provided insights into how Americans prepare for sleep. The results of their study are being presented today at SLEEP 2009, the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.
“Given the relationship of short sleep duration to health risks, there is concern than many Americans are chronically under-sleeping due to lifestyle choices,” said Dinges in an American Academy of Sleep Medicine press release. More than 50% of Americans surveyed watched late night television in the two hours preceding sleep to cue their bodies to begin the sleep cycle. Because television engages the brain and is built around half hour and one hour schedules, it actually encourages wakefulness.
Staying up to watch TV past the point of being tired, then using alarm clocks to wake up before the body has had enough sleep is creating a serious sleep deficit among Americans, study researchers warn. “While the timing of work may not be flexible,” said Dr. Basner, “giving up some TV viewing in the evening should be possible to promote adequate sleep.”
Up to 40% of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep per night. If you are among those who suffer from a sleep disorder, Atlanta psychiatrist Dr. Tracey Marks can help.