July 24, 2024

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Apparently, America’s Lack of Sleep Is a Congressional Issue | News

4 min read

Everybody sleeps, but some people run low on critical hours of rest. According to a National Sleep Foundation (NSF) study, an alarming trend is forming among teenagers and adults as both age brackets feature subsets that aren’t getting enough sleep.

The pioneer study found eight out of every ten teenagers aren’t getting enough sleep. Similarly, in a Gallup poll from 2023, 57% of respondents indicated that they don’t feel their sleep is adequate. Women under 50 made up the largest group of that not-insignificant percentage. In all instances, missing out on restful nights can cause significant concerns for mental health, including increased stress and anxiety, sparking Congressional interest.

In March 2024, NSF hosted the first Congressional briefing on the correlation between mental and sleep health. The “Sleep Health is Mental Health” program is part of NSF’s more extensive campaign to provide resources for the public and policymakers to understand how poor sleep patterns and low-quality sleep can directly impact one’s mental health.

Sleep Health Is Mental Health

NSF presented evidence of the link between sleep and mental health during the organization’s Sleep Awareness Week. The presentation for Congressional members, staff, and stakeholders aimed to take a unique approach to the discussion surrounding the mental health crisis in the United States.

According to a press release from NSF, the U.S. Surgeon General, CDC, and NIH agree there is a “mental health crisis” rampant within the country. The organization demonstrated the potential tie to poor sleep health through its 2023 and 2024 Sleep in American polls, which evaluated teen and adult sleep quality and mental health symptoms.

Understanding the Importance of Sleep

NSF’s Sleep In America poll reveals how few people get the needed sleep, providing valuable insight into a significant problem. Sleep deprivation can cause frustration, crankiness, and overall difficulty regulating emotions. Young adults who experience overtiredness have problems paying attention and exhibit hyperactivity.

Extended sleep deficiency can cause more severe health problems, such as hormonal imbalances, depression, and anxiety. Weight gain, a weaker immune system, and higher blood pressure are other potential causes of long-term sleep loss. Evidence shows the less sleep someone gets, the more they are at risk of mental and physical health issues.

Setting a precedent like this continues a much bigger conversation about the importance of sleep. NSF’s 2024 survey demonstrates the link between teens’ sleep health and mental health. The survey also found that teens who practiced healthier sleep habits report fewer depressive symptoms. These results build on the NSF’s 2023 survey of U.S. adults, which showed the same correlation between sleep and mental health.

Sleep’s Effect on the Mental Health Crisis

The National Alliance on Mental Illness compiled concerning data about the rates of mental illness in adults and teenagers. About 20% of adults and 16% of youth aged six to 17 experience mental illness issues every year. That adds up to significantly more than 65 million people.

Mental health disorders or illnesses can stem from many potential factors. Physical activity, preexisting conditions, high-stress environments, traumatic events, and social support play critical roles in an individual’s mental health. However, coupled with cases of insomnia or lack of sleep, these factors can develop new or exacerbate existing mental health conditions.

According to NSF, failing to get seven to nine hours of sleep every night can contribute to depressive episodes. The study found this to be true in 50% of adults while also identifying that 90% of those who achieve healthy sleep behaviors are less likely to experience significant depression. NSF states that it only takes two nights of poor sleep every week to increase the severity of depressive moods.

Strategies for Improving Sleep and Mental Health

Basic self-care is an excellent place to start for those looking to take charge of their mental health. Piril Hepsomali and John Groeger’s “Diet, Sleep, and Mental Health: Insights from the U.K. Biobank Study” explores how a healthy diet and sleep schedule can impact mental health. The study concludes a more nutritious diet improves sleep, which directly affects mental health.

A body’s homeostasis, or a balance in its natural processes, stems from routine. Bodies run on different cycles, including circadian rhythm and menstrual cycles. Establishing a sleep pattern, such as going to bed at a consistent time and getting up at the same time daily, maintains this cycle. Irregular sleeping habits interrupt deep, restorative sleep. Shallow sleep has direct negative impacts on diet and hormones.

Additionally, some experts believe that the blue light emitted from electronic devices negatively impacts circadian rhythm. To improve sleep quality, mobile phone and tablet use should stop at least an hour before going to bed.

Stop Counting Sheep and Get Some Sleep

A good sleep routine isn’t just about going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. It’s also about what happens after your head hits the pillow. Some people experience racing thoughts and restlessness, which makes it harder to fall asleep.

Try to wind down with a nighttime ritual like meditation, a skincare routine, reading a book, or journaling helps bring the mind some peace and improves sleep quality. Drinking calming, decaffeinated tea helps relax some.

Mindfulness and sleep apps also bring some guidance to those who struggle with staying focused. Prioritizing rest means putting health at the center of life. Better sleep habits can bring stability and wholeness to daily responsibilities, too.

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