CDC Launches National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project

CDC Launches National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project

A few weeks ago the Centers for Disease Control (or CDC) announced the launch of  a new initiative designed to create public awareness of healthy sleep habits, titled the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project. The cooperative efforts of the Sleep Research Society, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the CDC will combine in this new campaign, which is expected to create measurable improvements in the sleep health for the population as a whole. The National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project will aim to improve public knowledge of risks and decrease the percentage of people who do not get enough rest.

The project is designed to meet the objectives set forth in a broader government initiative, Healthy People 2020.  Healthy People 2020 seeks to improve several aspects of public health in coming years via education and research. For sleep health, the objectives include reducing the rate of vehicular crashes caused by drowsy driving, increasing awareness of sleep apnea, and increasing the proportion of students and adults getting adequate rest.

What is the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project?

Sleep loss is considered a national epidemic by the CDC. They estimate that at least 30% of the adult population is not getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of rest per night. They believe that part of this has to do with limited public understanding of why people need rest, how much we need, what quality rest looks like, and of disorders and health problems that can affect sleep. The project has received $1 million in funding, and is planned to last 5 years.

One focus of the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project is to help people recognize the differences between sleep quality and sleep quantity. Many problems can disrupt sleep quality, which means even though you have spent 8 hours asleep, you may not wake feeling rested. These include asthma, sleep apnea, fibromyalgia and arthritis, to name just a few. Obstructive sleep apnea is considered to be a very serious, yet often undiagnosed problem, which can lead to an increased risk for a stroke or heart attack. The CDC will aim to educate the public about these issues that can affect rest, and provide information on how to start getting better sleep.

The project also intends to teach people to begin considering rest to be as important as diet and exercise, not just an afterthought. The severity and scope of problems caused by inadequate sleep, from health issues to safety issues, illustrate the importance of receiving a sufficient, quality rest. Through educating the population as a whole as well as healthcare providers, the CDC hopes to help people not only recognize the importance of healthy sleep, but also find methods to ensure they obtain adequate rest.

In the coming months, the CDC will announce how they intend to spread to the word though in a Huffington Post article, it was mentioned that they plan on using local and state level partners such as health care systems and sleep organizations. They will be targeting both the public and health care providers like doctors and insurance companies, and they also aim to expand sleep health data to further future research.

Why Is Rest Important?

Sleep proves a vital component of overall health, with adequate rest linked to several preventable diseases and health problems both physical and mental, as well as increased driving and workplace accidents.  Sleep loss, chronic deprivation, and insomnia increase the risk for diseases ranging from cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. Furthermore, recent studies have highlighted how drowsiness is related to suffering academic performance in students as well as a significant proportion of vehicle accidents.

1) Americans Aren’t Getting Enough Rest

  • 30% of adults do not get the recommended 7-9 hours of rest (CDC).
  • 68% of teens in grades 9-12 are NOT getting sufficient sleep, defined as 8 or more hours (CDC).
  • According to a study from Boston College, American students are actually the most sleep deprived from over 50 countries, which is thought to affect overall math and science performance.
  • An estimated 70 million Americans have sleep problems.

2) Insufficient Sleep Is Linked to Health Problems

Problems directly attributed to sleep deprivation, disorders and chronic short sleep include the following, according to recent studies:

  • STROKE – Sleeping less than 6 hours per night may increase the risk of suffering a stroke 4.5 times for middle aged otherwise healthy people (University of Alabama in Birmingham study).
  • DIABETES – Sleep deprivation affects the way the body processes insulin and increases the risk of becoming diabetic (University of Chicago study).
  • OBESITY – Sleep deprivation also has been shown to correlate with higher BMI. Very short sleepers are up to 50% more likely to be obese than people who sleep 7-8 hours.
  • MEMORY – Cognitive issues including the inability to form short-term memory in seniors is linked to sleep loss. Rest plays a crucial role in how the brain processes and stores memories, crucial for learning in people of all ages.
  • ALZHEIMER’S – Lack of sleep has been associated with increased beta-amyloid deposition in the brain, a key symptom of Alzheimer’s disease (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study).
  • HEART DISEASE – Heart disease risks increase significantly, with a 48% increased chance of experiencing a heart attack or heart issues among people who sleep less than 6 hours (European Heart Journal).
  • HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE – People sleep less than 6 hours per night are at increased risk for developing or worsening high blood pressure (Mayo Clinic).
  • CANCER – Less than six hours of sleep per night has been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer, polyps and recurrence of breast cancer.
  • IMMUNITY – Rest is necessary for fighting infections. Reduced sleep impairs the immune system’s ability to fight off colds, flus, fevers, and other infections (Web MD).
  • MORTALITY – People with chronic short sleep of 6 hours or less have a greater chance of dying from all causes, as do adults who sleep over 9 hours.
  • SLEEP APNEA – Untreated sleep apnea or sleep-disordered breathing increases risk of heart attack and stroke, but only 25% of people with sleep apnea symptoms currently seek medical evaluation according to the CDC.

3) Insufficient Sleep is a Public Safety Hazard

  • Nearly 17% of fatal vehicular accidents are considered to be caused by falling asleep while driving.
  • Out of 103 million people who admit to driving while they were drowsy, 30% have fallen asleep while driving.

Sleep Hygiene – Clean Up Your Nighttime Routine

Getting enough restorative shut-eye is important for your health, happiness, and performance, and also affects those around you. Sleep hygiene is the science of getting better rest. The CDC mentions the following practices, habits and tips designed by the National Sleep Foundation to help improve your quality and quantity of rest.

  1. Be Regular. Go to bed and wake up at regular times every day, even on weekends.
  2. Go Dark. Remove or cover light sources in your bedroom, such as TV’s and VCRs, alarm clocks and nightlights. Most small lights could be covered with a bit of tape if they can’t be turned off, and bright city lights can blocked out with heavy shades or an eye mask.
  3. Make Sure Your Bed is Comfortable. If your mattress is over 5-10 years old (depending on type and quality) it may be past its expiration date. Additionally, if you feel springs or pressure points, toss and turn, or sleep better at hotels, it may be time to choose a new bed. The highest rated for comfort are natural latex and memory foam mattresses, and medium to medium-firm beds tend to be best at relieving back pain. For people with sleep apnea, heart problems, acid reflux or breathing problems, adjustments to position like elevating the head and/or feet via wedges or an adjustable bed may increase comfort and sleep quality.
  4. Don’t Multitask. Use your bed only for sleeping and romance. By not watching TV, working on the laptop, reading in bed or doing other activities, your mind will associate the space with rest not entertainment.
  5. Don’t Eat Big Meals Before Bed. Heavy meals before bedtime require the body to work hard digesting food, and can contribute to indigestion. Have a light protein-packed snack instead like a some yogurt or cheese, nuts, a small sandwich, or peanut butter with apples or celery.

Additional tips from Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine include:

  1. Get Daylight. – Natural sunlight affects the body’s production of melatonin, which regulates when we feel drowsy. Aim for 20-30 minutes outdoors to boost natural production of this hormone and to help regulate your body’s natural circadian rhythm. Sunlight is also critical for vitamin D production.
  2. Exercise. Moderate exercise 4-5 times a week improves sleep over time, even matching the influence of pharmaceutical  aids according to one study. Bonus tip: Take a jog or brisk walk in the morning or afternoon to get your daily dose of exercise and sun!
  3. Cut Caffeine. Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening as it can disrupt sleep quality and quantity. Caffeine makes it difficult to fall asleep and may keep you from reaching a deep sleep, or cause you to feel restless. Switch to decaf at least hours before bed.
  4. Avoid Nightcaps. People often believe that a little alcohol will help them doze off, but don’t realize that as the alcohol wears off that they may wake up sooner than normal and have difficulty getting back to bed. Plan on quitting a few hours before bed and don’t overdo it.
  5. No Screens. TV’s, computers, tablets and cell phones emit light frequencies that signal the brain to stay awake. Turn off your screens at least an hour before bed so your mind can unwind.
  6. Avoid Napping. Daytime naps may make it harder to go to bed later.
  7. Don’t Watch the Clock. Rather than sitting in bed and watching the alarm, stressing about not sleeping, get up get a drink of water or read a book in another room until you feel tired.

With the launch of the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project, the CDC aims to help people become more cognizant of the importance rest plays in our lives, from health to safety to job performance and more. Readers will likely be seeing these campaigns in news, television and even at the doctor’s office or their workplace in the next few years. If you are one of the millions of Americans who aren’t getting enough rest, take the initiative to learn about healthy sleep habits like mentioned above, and spread the word to friends, coworkers and family so we can help each other become a healthier, safer, more well-rested country by 2020.

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