Troubling times: ‘State of the world’ keeps 1 in 5 Americans up at night

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even the most optimistic observer will likely admit it’s been a rough few years across the United States. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, never-ending political turmoil and polarization, and sky-high prices, Americans have had plenty of valid reasons to feel stressed out lately. Now, new research indicates exorbitant stress and worry is keeping roughly a fifth of Americans up all night.

After conducting a national survey, researchers from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center report that close to one in five respondents struggle to fall asleep at night.

“Here at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, there was a 29% increase in referrals for insomnia from 2018 to 2021,” says Dr. Aneesa Das, professor of internal medicine, in a media release. “Stress can increase your heart rate, increase your blood pressure, make you have an upset stomach and cause muscle tension. All of those things increase our alertness, making it harder to fall asleep.”

What are some simple ways to find some rest?

There are plenty of supposed ways to help people fall asleep faster, but anyone who has wrestled with a bad case of insomnia knows a good night’s rest is often supremely elusive. The survey notes many Americans can’t help but fall back on comforting-but-counterproductive nighttime activities. Nearly half admit to scrolling through their smartphone before bed, and 37 percent routinely fall asleep with the television on.

“Our circadian drive is that central clock telling us when we’re supposed to be awake and asleep, and that is driven by light more than anything,” Prof. Das explains. “When we use our smartphones and our TVs right before bed, we increase that bright light exposure at the wrong time.”

If you’re looking to improve your sleep onset time and quality, Prof. Das recommends increasing your exposure to natural light by going outside during the day as often as possible. It’s also a good idea to limit exposure to artificial light after sunset. Following a consistent exercise schedule can help as well.

As far as simpler, more behavioral adjustments, sleep experts recommend keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet and only using your bed for sleep. Cognitive behavioral therapies like meditation and muscle relaxation have also helped many people sleep better, and it is advisable to follow a consistent bedtime/wake time schedule — even on weekends.

Sleep can be incredibly frustrating. It’s essential to our health, yet incredibly hard to come by for so many. If you’ve tried all of the suggestions and have yet to find restful relief, speaking with your primary care physician is a good next step. Your doctor can help determine if the insomnia is the result of an underlying health issue and help you explore further sleep strategies, such as sleep restriction.

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