Sleepless in the City

Real Age has just published its ranking of the best and worst cities for sleep in the U.S., part of its 2012 Oldest and Youngest Cities report. There’s good news for residents of cities like Charlotte, NC, Philadelphia, and Austin Texas—you are among the urban dwellers getting the most consistently good sleep. Now, let’s take a closer look at that “worst” list. These are the top 10 worst cities for sleep, according to Real Age:

  1. Louisville, KY
  2. Memphis, TN
  3. Knoxville, TN
  4. New Orleans, LA
  5. Jacksonville, FL
  6. Las Vegas, NV
  7. Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL
  8. Portland, OR
  9. Los Angeles, CA
  10. Providence, RI

It’s pretty clear why Real Age would create a list like this: sleep is a fundamental aspect of long-term health and wellness. Their age-determining algorithm calculates that getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night can make your “real age” as much as 1.5 years younger than your actual age.

How did they determine the worst cities for sleep? The cities that made the worst list were the ones where people reported the most change in the amount of sleep they got on a nightly basis, a change of more than 2 hours in either direction, compared to the first time they took the Real Age test. Most people who took the test reported being short on sleep. But people who sleep too much are also
at risk for health problems: in Real Age terms, too much sleep can age you as much or more than too little sleep.

Interestingly, the Real Age worst cities list shares many of the same entries with another recent ranking of cities struggling with sleep. Bert Sperling recently released his own list of the most sleepless cities. Sperling, who researches quality of life issues in cities and towns, used a different methodology to compile his list, one that considered life circumstances such as employment and marital status, and daily commute time. Still, the two lists share several of the same apparently sleepless cities, including Louisville, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Tampa-St. Petersburg.

Back to the Real Age rankings, this ranking was looking at the DIRECT effects on change in the amount of nightly sleep (not looking at other factors which may affect sleep).

What are some possible causes of such a substantial change—more than 2 hours, up or down—in the amount of sleep one gets per night?

 People who are sleeping too much are often dealing with one or more of the following issues:

  • Depression. Depression is linked to both sleep deprivation and to excess sleep. Lethargy, feelings of being overwhelmed, and fatigue are all hallmarks of depression and can they themselves lead to too much sleep.
  •  Illness. Excess sleep can be both symptom of and a risk factor for an underlying illness.
  •  Unemployment. In today’s difficult economy, many people are facing unemployment
         and under-employment. Being without a job can cause depression, stress and
         anxiety, which can wreak havoc with sleep. Losing a job also often means
         losing the schedule that goes with employment, and that loss of routine
         can lead to irregular bedtimes and wake times, and too much sleep.
  • Loss of a loved one. Difficult losses—whether by death,
         divorce or separation—take a deep toll, both physically and emotionally.
         These events can cause immediate and significant problems for sleep,
         including an increase in sleep to unhealthful levels.

 At the other end of the spectrum, what are the most common circumstances that lead to a
change toward too little sleep?

  •  A new baby. Bringing home an infant is a wonderful event—and notoriously challenging
         for the sleep habits of parents.
  • Stress. This might be the most common cause for a decrease in sleep. Whether chronic or acute, stress is disruptive for sleep and bad for your health. Remember, too, that stress is not only caused by negative circumstances and events. Exciting, positive changes—think weddings, job promotions, and moving house—can still be stress-inducing.
  • Exercise. There’s plenty of evidence that exercise enhances sleep. But exercise too close to bedtime can interfere with your nightly rest. I’m NOT suggesting you give it up! Rather, move your exercise too early in the day. Morning is an ideal time for exercise, when it will help strengthen your circadian rhythms and help you sleep better at night.

 Whether you’re living in a Los Angeles high rise or a townhouse in New Orleans’ French Quarter—or anywhere that you’re struggling to get the right amount of sleep—here are some simple steps you can take to help improve your nightly sleep: 

  1.  Calculate your bedtime: Determine the time you need to be out of bed. Now work backward 7.5
         hours. That’s your ideal bedtime. Set an alarm to remind you to go to
         bed—just make sure to reset it for your wake up time.
  2. Nap during the day: Midday are rejuvenating for mind and body. Creating time for a short nap during the day—20 minutes is ideal—is not laziness, its smart sleep strategy! Just be sure not to
         nap too late in the afternoon. Napping after 3:30 p.m. could interfere with your overnight sleep.
  3. To help stave off daytime drowsiness, try my Nap-a-Latte™ technique: quickly drink a small cup of cool-drip coffee, and then take a 25-minute nap. The Nap-a-Latte™ reduces your drowsiness and the caffeine will wake you up, but taken no later than early afternoon will not keep you awake at night.
  4. Reduce your caffeine: Limited use of caffeine is okay, but too much caffeine can interfere with falling asleep even several hours after it’s consumed. If you’re short on sleep, keep your caffeine intake to a minimum, and don’t consume caffeinated beverages after 2 p.m.

So we now can use this “RealAge” information to change our sleep and change our lives!

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD 

The Sleep Doctor™

The Sleep Doctor’s Diet
Plan:  Lose Weight Through Better Sleep

Everything you do, you do better with a good night’s sleep™ 

twitter: @thesleepdoctor