The Science of Insomnia

The Science of Insomnia

It’s not shocking that at least 35% of Americans are sleep deprived [1].  Getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night seems harder and harder these days. 

It is often 11pm or later before most of us can get to bed, because all of us are:

  • working later hours, 
  • managing our children's evenings activities, 
  • having longer commutes, 
  • and trying to find time for ourselves.

And it seems as though the alarm in the morning goes off earlier and earlier every day. Not only are we getting to bed later and later, but we are also having problems falling asleep. With our minds racing about all the things we did not do that day, the caffeine from the cup of coffee on our commute home, or any number of other reasons, something is keeping us awake at night. Insomnia is a common issue, affecting not only adults but also children.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine the criterion for enough sleep is at least 7 hours a night, for adults aged 18-60 [1]. Sleeping less than the 7 hours seems to be associated with increased risk of: 

  • obesity, 
  • diabetes, 
  • high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, 
  • asthma, 
  • GERD/Gastroesophageal reflux, 
  • and mental distress. 

While the benefits of sleep are endless – sleep improves our memory, sharpens our ability to think, and be attentive to tasks at hand. Let’s not forget that getting good sleep also helps us to be better parents, coworker, bosses, and human beings. So how can we improve our sleep? Well, we must get to the core of the problem. 

Sometimes it is as simple as improving our sleep hygiene. 

  • Make your room an inviting place; cool, dark, and peaceful.
  • Avoid electronic or light emitting items before bed. 
  • Maintain a schedule. Going to bed at the same time, nightly of course, as well as waking up at the same time. Also, follow this routine on the weekends. 
  • Avoid caffeine or stimulating drinks before bed. Avoid alcohol as it often will wake us up in the middle of the night.
  • Stretch and/or meditate before sleeping to calm the system. 

But other times we need sleep aids to be able to help us sleep as the core problem is a hormonal one. This is where Zen would come in as it is helping to balance the cortisol production at bedtime*. Cortisol will inhibit melatonin production, because if a bear (stress) is chasing you it would not be wise to fall asleep as the bear will win by eating you. Sleep is vital, and insomnia is far too frequent in our society, but there are options for improved sleep.  

[1] A good night’s sleep is critical for good health
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