This is likely not shocking news: Many Americans aren’t catching enough Zs.
Thirty-five percent of U.S. adults are not getting the recommended seven hours of sleep each night, according to 2018 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We believe people are getting an hour or more less sleep than they were 75 to 100 years ago,” says Michael Newnam, M.D., the director of sleep medicine at Hillcrest Medical Center and Hillcrest Hospital Cushing. “The recommended amount of sleep is between seven and nine hours for adults and, unfortunately, many of us are falling well short of that.”
Newnam says insomnia is the most common sleep disorder, which he defines as “difficulty getting to sleep or difficulty maintaining sleep.” Sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts, and shift work disorder, when people struggle to sleep during the day because they work at night, are other sleep disorders he sees often.
When helping a patient work toward better sleep, Newnam says he first addresses sleep hygiene to see if the problem can be solved naturally.
Here are some of Newnam’s recommendations:
Keep electronics like TVs and phones out of the bedroom or at least on silent.
Newnam says the use of electronics “distracts people from going to bed at a normal time, and the light coming in tends to delay the normal circadian rhythm, so you don’t get that melatonin release that you would normally get. Because we have artificial light, it’s getting rid of the normal drive and urge to sleep that we would get as the sun goes down.”
Keep clocks out of sight.
Have a comfortable mattress and cool bedroom.
When possible, keep children and pets out of the bed.
Don’t go to bed until you’re truly sleepy.
“A lot of time people base their bedtime on when they think they should go to bed,” Newnam says, “and what happens then is you lay there frustrated trying to go to sleep, and it perpetuates the issue of insomnia.”
If adjusting sleep hygiene doesn’t help a patient, Newnam looks to melatonin, a natural, over-the-counter supplement, and thirdly to prescription medication.
“I try to balance the fact that any of the sleep aids can become habit forming,” Newnam says. “You can become psychologically or physically dependent, so we use them with caution.”
When a patient has sleep apnea, which is diagnosed by history and sleep testing, there are a few treatment options. A CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine is the most common treatment. An oral appliance, a custom-made dental device, is another treatment option.
“An oral appliance is a good solution for sleep apnea issues when a CPAP cannot be tolerated by the patient,” says Chris Vinson, D.D.S., of Tulsa Precision Dental.
Vinson says his patients with oral appliances often report they snore less and have an increase in energy throughout the day.
Although many people have trouble sleeping from time to time, Newnam says a doctor should be seen when someone snores, thinks they might have sleep apnea, or when their sleep issues affect normal daytime function.