Realizing that Americans are suffering from a lack of sleep is no eye-opener. Just look around classrooms, offices, the car next to you in traffic — the yawns and bleary eyes give it away.

In a previous article, we discussed the issues that result from sleep deficiency and the research into the problem plaguing America. The path to our long national nightmare has been complicated, but solutions may be available.

It's not that people don't want to sleep. It's just that sleep isn't as easy as it sounds, especially once you factor in medical conditions and distractions.

Helping hands are reaching out. Research at the University of Arizona showed that naps can help preschoolers improve language learning. Perhaps taking a page from that book, high schools in New Mexico added sleep pods, allowing students 20 minutes of shut-eye between classes. Major League Baseball's Boston Red Sox, looking to gain a competitive edge, have added a sleep room to their home stadium, bringing new-age sports philosophy to the century-old ballpark.

The elements that are causing sleep deficiencies are wide-ranging. But if we can eliminate the problems and get back on track, we'll get healthier.

A study reported in Work & Stress, An International Journal of Work, Health & Organizations, couldn't be any clearer in spelling it out. "The physiological and psychological stressors associated with sustained work, fatigue and sleep loss affect worker performance," the abstract states plainly.

Still, we're ahead of another mammal. Recently released results of a study of African elephants shows that the subjects averaged only about two hours of sleep per day, sometimes standing up. That gives you a new appreciation for eight hours in a comfortable bed.

Aside from helping us keep medical issues at bay and improve our productivity and learning, sleep helps our brain reset, according to research at the University of Wisconsin's Center for Sleep and Consciousness. The four-year study revealed that the brain's synapses decrease in size during sleep, allowing more room for absorbing knowledge after rest, the University of Wisconsin reported.

Let's look at potential causes for uneven sleep, and possible solutions.



It comes from a lot of directions, and it's not easily deflected. A study by Korean researchers took on stress and sleep disorder, showing that stress triggers to the central nervous system carry on into the night. Any parents of teenagers can tell you all about sleepless nights, but researchers recently found that worrying about adult children caused stress that impaired sleep.

Among those teens, stress can stem from mobile phone use, researchers found. That leads us directly to the next cause of insufficient sleep.


You knew this one was coming. We can't seem to put down those mobile devices, even when we're weary.

Phones are not the only issue, according to Brigham and Women's Hospital. Any LED device at bedtime can cause disruptive sleep. If you're thinking that you'll turn over the worrying to an electronic sleep tracker, that might not be the solution you're looking for. Rush University Medical Center researchers found that the data from those devices can be misleading.


In some cases, the cause is genetic. That was the result of a project by Harvard Medical School instructor Mark Zielinski involving mice. The mice, even when showing signs of being tired, could not achieve meaningful slumber once their sleep was disrupted.

Take heart, because there's hope. Here are some ways that sleep can be improved.



University of Pennsylvania researchers determined that what you eat affects how you sleep. Their study found that individuals eating fewer calories were able to sleep longer than those consuming more calories. Also, they had the most varied diets. Those who struggled to sleep drank less water and took in less Vitamin C.

Physical activity

Adults who met specific physical activity guidelines during the day felt less sleepy overall and suffered fewer sleep impairments such as leg cramps during the night and losing concentration when tired, a 2011 study determined.


Consider going back to nature. Relying on natural light to awake in the morning improved sleep in a project by University of Colorado professor Kenneth Wright. Electronic devices were not allowed on camping trips in the study.


The building where you work can help you sleep better. That's according to Harvard researchers, who determined that those who worked in 10 green-certified buildings experienced a 6 percent improvement in sleep quality.

While volumes of data has been compiled on the topic of irregular sleep, rest assured that researchers aren't ready to put this issue to bed yet.