As the end of the fall semester looms ever larger, students across the country are hunkering down for the dreaded all-nighters: the non-stop cramming sessions that typically precede final exams. It’s a college tradition, one that many students consider a badge of honor. Staying up all night is a feat of endurance only the young relish. Unfortunately, all that extra studying is for naught. It turns out, cramming aside, a lack of sleep is the single best predictor of poor performance on exams. Dr. Philip Alapat, medical director of the Harris Health Sleep Disorders Center and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, suggests that students study throughout the semester instead of cramming at the last minute. Sure, and pigs should fly, Dr. Alapat.
Insomnia is one of the most common ailments in adults. A full ten percent of the population suffers from it. Despite all of the sleeping pills on the market, that number isn’t going down. We live in an anxiety-driven, caffeine-fueled culture, and that’s just the beginning. Considering the economic situation in the United States over the past few years, people have a lot to worry about, and worrying and sleep don’t mix. For many of us, bedtime is the only time of day we really stop and think. It’s the first quiet moment we’ve had since we woke up, and our brains take full advantage. But at what price? The science is definitive: poor sleep means poor health and when you’re tired you aren’t at your best. Your job performance suffers, your relationships suffer, and your health slowly deteriorates. What’s really going on here?
Do you wake up with heartburn, a cricked neck, and a backache? Or maybe it’s more subtle: you wake up feeling tired, like you haven’t really slept. Surprising new research suggests your sleeping position may be to blame. Most people have a preferred position, a default that feels the most natural. But just because something feels natural doesn’t make it healthy. Here’s a run-down of the best and worst sleeping positions, and what you can do to make them more comfortable.
Human beings are built to respond to the natural light and dark cycle of the day. It makes sense that we would have evolved this way. After all, unlike cats, our eyes aren’t equipped to see very well in the dark. So, we had to do our hunting in the daytime and, the earlier we started looking for food, the more food we’d find before the day was over. As a consequence, our brains are more alert during daytime hours. As the sun sets, we start to slow down. Even if you consider yourself a night person, your productivity still wanes with the loss of daylight. Of course, nowadays we are surrounded by artificial light. It makes sense that this light might wreak some havoc on our sleep/wake patterns.
In the past few years there has been a huge increase in the number of consumers buying memory foam mattresses (almost 20% of the mattress market). This makes good sense: they’re comfortable (especially in the first year), lightweight, and readily available online. However, what many people don’t realize is that memory foam mattresses can really affect the quality of their intimate lives. There are a lot of things people do in bed, and sleeping is just one of them. For those other things, having a surface with traction is critical. Otherwise, maneuvering can be akin to walking in mud… difficult and tiring. Expending this kind of effort when you’re trying to be intimate can really kill the mood. Your bed should make your bedroom life easier, more pleasant, and more fun. It shouldn’t be making things more complicated.
People who sleep soundly often take the ubiquitous activity for granted. They are unfamiliar with the endless wakeful nights of the tormented insomniac. But most people have experienced insomnia at least once in their lives—a terrible night when no amount of tiredness can shut down an active brain. I’ve had many of these nights in my life. They often happen in times of stress, when my troubles occupy my thoughts. It took a few years of regular insomnia before I started really researching possible causes, from my diet to my brand of foam mattress. I was surprised to find some clear criminals among the commonly-used substances in my daily life. I didn’t realize that my lifestyle choices were sabotaging my sleep! They may be sabotaging yours too. Here are some common culprits.
Hollywood stars and starlets are known for their weird habits—from underarm botox, to wearing latex gloves 24/7 (I’m looking at you, Howie Mandel), to playing with Barbies (it got creepy when you turned 40, Johnny Depp). I guess their eccentricities are part of the reason we love them so much. After all, nobody wants to watch a reality show about a nine-to-fiver in a business suit who takes his kids to soccer practice. When it comes to sleeping habits, the stars are just as strange, and I wouldn’t expect anything less. Would you? Still, I keep wondering, if they just got good natural mattresses, if they’d have to be so extreme. Yes. The answer is yes.
I am a terrible sleeper. My brain thinks when the lights go out it’s time to think. I’ve solved world hunger in my sleeplessness. I’ve rearranged the furniture to transform my thrift store apartment into a masterpiece of modern design. I’ve negotiated peace treaties between warring countries. I’ve balanced my checkbook from memory. Instead of resting, I exhaust myself. It would be ironic if it weren’t so terribly frustrating! The worst part is that I’m so tired during the day, I fall asleep in all sorts of weird places: on the train, at school, even standing up! Over the years, I have discovered a few tried and true secrets that help me sleep: mysterious tinctures and techniques that power down my head so I can drift off into dreamland like a normal stinkin’ person.