Poor Sleep and Unhappiness

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Have trouble sleeping? Dissatisfied with your life? The two just might be connected.

In fact, people who experience ongoing sleep problems may be three times as likely to become dissatisfied with their lives later on, says a study from Finland.

The study, which looked at 18,631 same sex twins, measured sleep quality and life satisfaction in an interval of six years, first in 1975 and then in 1981. To measure satisfaction people were asked about how hard they thought their life was, as well as feelings of loneliness, happiness and ability to experience pleasure or joy. Sleep was measured by both perceived quality and length of sleep.

The researchers, from the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki, found that:

— Participants who reported dissatisfaction with life in 1975 were also likely to be dissatisfied in 1981. However, their sleep quality did not deteriorate over this period.

— People who said they slept poorly in 1975 were more than twice as likely to be dissatisfied with life in 1981.

After adjusting for other factors that may have played a role — such as health problems, smoking and/or drinking habits and physical activity level — researchers found that poor sleep independently tripled the likelihood of life dissatisfaction.

Sleep directly affects the brain, emotions, and mood

And while the findings indicate that bad sleep quality may lead to dissatisfaction with life, the reverse is not true, the researchers say. Rather, something about sleeping poorly in and of itself may affect “the brain, emotions, and mood,” they wrote in a report about the study.

The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. (To read more, click here.)

The risks of a sleep-deprived lifestyle

These findings are only the latest to indicate how sleep affects our health, performance and sense of well-being. A sleep-deprived lifestyle, for example, has long been associated with mental alertness and cognitive abilities. Poor sleep can also impair the immune system, and even increase the risk for obesity and diseases such as diabetes, experts say.

And not surprisingly, there is also a strong link between sleep deprivation and traffic accidents.

So how much sleep is enough? It depends on your age. Experts say that infants generally require about 16 hours a day, while teenagers need, on average, about 9 hours. For most adults, 7 to 8 hours a night is thought to be best, although some people may need as few as 5 hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day.

Older people tend to sleep more lightly and for fewer hours, although they generally need as much sleep as they needed in early adulthood.

NEXT: 8 Tips for Better Sleeping

8 tips for better sleeping

If you’re one of the 9 out of 10 Canadians who report having sleep problems*, here are some tips for getting a good night’s sleep.

Set a schedule and stick to it.

Go to bed at a set time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Disrupting this routine may interrupt your inner ‘circadian clock’ and lead to insomnia. While ‘sleeping in’ on weekends may seem like a treat, it can make it harder to wake up early on Monday morning because it re-sets your sleep cycles for a later awakening.

Watch what you eat.

The general rule is: Don’t eat for at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime. Eating too much may make you less comfortable when settling down for bed. It is best to avoid a heavy meal and spicy foods too close to bedtime.

Watch what you drink.

Avoid drinks that contain caffeine, which acts as a stimulant. This includes coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, non-herbal teas, diet drugs, and some pain relievers. Alcohol tends to keep people in lighter stages of sleep, robbing them of deep and REM sleep. Note: Smokers also tend to sleep lightly and often wake up early because of nicotine withdrawal.

Get regular exercise.

Try to exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day. Keep in mind, however, that while daily exercise often helps people sleep, a workout too soon before bedtime may actually interfere with sleep. In addition to making us more alert, our body temperature rises during exercise, and takes as much as 6 hours to begin to drop. Since a cooler body temperature is associated with the onset of sleep, it is better to finish your exercise at least 5 to 6 hours before going to bed.

Establish relaxing rituals.

Leave the day’s stresses behind with a warm bath, reading or another relaxing activity. Avoid arousing activities before bedtime like working, paying bills, engaging in competitive games or family problem solving.

Make your room sleep-friendly.

Select your mattress, pillow and bed linens carefully for maximum comfort. Maintain a sleep-friendly temperature in the bedroom, usually between 18-21 ° C (65-70 degrees F). (Extreme temperatures may disrupt sleep or prevent you from falling asleep.) You may also wish to consider using blackout curtains, eyeshades, earplugs, “white noise,” humidifiers, fans and other devices. Install soft lighting in your bedroom and bath. And when reading in bed, consider using a book light.

Don’t just lie there.

Generally it takes about 20-30 minutes to fall asleep. If you still can’t get to sleep, don’t just lie in bed. Instead try reading, watching television, or listening to calming music until you feel tired. The anxiety of being unable to fall asleep can actually contribute to your sleeplessness.

Rise with the sun.

If possible, wake up with the sun, or use very bright lights in the morning. Sunlight helps the body’s internal biological clock reset itself each day. Sleep experts recommend exposure to an hour of morning sunlight for people having problems falling asleep.

Note: If your sleeping problems continue, consult a doctor. Most sleep disorders can be treated effectively.

*According to a Harris/Decima poll, which was commissioned by Sunbeam, via an online panel (eVox) among a sample of 745 adult Canadians. The margin of error is +/- 3.56 per cent.


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