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Get some Zzzzzs

Sleep. You would think that something as easy as closing your eyes and drifting off into a restful state would be simple to achieve — and you would be wrong.

Research has shown that thousands of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep, let alone a good night’s sleep.

“We are incredibly sleep deprived as a nation. I want to help bring attention to an issue that is a big problem,” said Dr. Carol Ash, a sleep expert and medical director of Somerset Medical Center’s Sleep for Life Program in Hillsborough, N.J.

“We just assume that we close our eyes at night and open them in the morning and that we’re getting sleep in between. There’s little awareness of the purpose of getting healthy sleep and the consequences of not getting it.”

Dr. Robert Oexman, vice president of strategic development and research for the Sleep to Live Institute, agreed.

“Most people don’t really understand that sleep impacts all that we do.”

Oexman said the lack of sleep affects a person’s performance mentally and physically, as well as impairs the ability to heal from any type of illness or injury.

The lack of sleep also can prevent a person from losing weight, recall facts, deal with stressful situations or perform basic duties for his or her job, as well as lead to increased anxiety or severe depression.

“Often the lack of sleep is self-inflicted. There’s so much pressure as a society to get everything done,” Ash said. “You cannot push yourself past the barrier for sleep. It’s like depriving yourself of oxygen.”

There also are numerous environmental factors, such as a person’s surroundings and the mattress he is sleeping on.

According to Ash, the amount of sleep a person needs is encoded into his or her DNA. She said it ranges from seven to nine hours a night.

So, how do you know if you’re not getting enough sleep? There are a few telltale signs, said Ralph Rossdeutscher, president of Natura World, a Canadian manufacturer of earth-friendly mattresses and bedding.

“If you find yourself getting tired throughout the day and needing a nap, chances are you’re not getting enough sleep at night. If you need more than a half hour to fall asleep at night, ironically, that is also a sign. Not enough sleep can make you feel irritable, groggy and unable to concentrate. You may even notice that you feel clumsier.”

Fortunately, those same sleep experts who have seen our nation’s citizens get increasingly tired do have a few suggestions to help improve the quality of the sleep they are getting.

A good place to start would be with the bed itself. An uncomfortable bed will lead to restless sleep, Ash said.

“A mattress is the foundation of your bed, so it’s important that it’s in good condition and is comfortable. There are many options to suit your individual needs,” Rossdeutscher said.

Numerous manufacturers offer a variety of bed types made of materials such as inner springs, latex and visco-memory foam, as well as various combinations of those materials, all in different levels of firmness or softness. They key to selecting which bed type is right for you is to find something that is comfortable and offers the right amount of support.

The best way to determine that is to actually try out the beds. While sleep specialists at retail outlets can offer suggestions, it really is important for people to spend some time lying on a mattress before purchasing it. And that means more than just a 30-second test, the experts said.

“Your head, shoulders, hips and heels need to be in line while you sleep so your body can recuperate from its daily stress. As your spinal column realigns, the muscles in your legs relax and your blood circulates properly. If you’re sleeping on the wrong mattress, poor postural support will result in morning aches and pains and, ultimately, greater health complications over time,” Oexman said.

And, if you sleep with a partner, it’s a good idea to have him or her with you when shopping — or, at the very least, know his or her sleep habits and preferences.

Rossdeutscher said his company’s dual-slat system is ideal for couples because movement on one side of the bed will not affect the other side.

In addition to considering the material inside the mattress, manufacturers offer a variety of tickings, which is the cover that holds all the inside layers together. There are tickings with aloe vera and silver incorporated into the material, as well as those with the ability to wick away moisture to keep the sleeper dryer and more comfortable.

Many of these materials are designed to regulate the body’s temperature while sleeping, which is a key factor in getting a good night’s rest.

“We sleep sounder in a cool environment,” Ash said.

The ChiliPad, which was showcased at the home-furnishings market at World Market Center Las Vegas this week, is a mattress topper that allows sleepers to set the temperature that they prefer. It can cool or heat the bed anywhere from 46 F to 118 F, and is dual zoned so couples can individually adjust their own temperatures.

The proper pillow is equally important.

I Love My Pillow, which also was featured at the Las Vegas market, is a new memory foam pillow with built-in contours to support the neck.

“It will adapt to any sleep style,” said Tony Joseph, national sales manager for LMP Worldwide, the Michigan-based manufacturer.

Natura also offers a pillow infused with lavender, an essential oil that is often used as a sleep aid.

 

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