Iowa State researchers found an increase in difficulty falling and staying asleep in the results of a survey conducted on more than 165,000 individuals from 2013 to 2017.
Zlatan Krizan, professor of psychology, studies sleep personality and social behavior. The data collected from the survey was analyzed by Krizan and his research team that included Diana Muranovic, a senior in biology who is minoring in psychology. The data was from questions included in the National Health Interview Survey.
Krizan said these days, people’s social lives are intertwined with their technological lives. In this study, the research team looked at how well people sleep, which Krizan said isn’t something that has been tracked or analyzed in the last decade.
“One issue that we have been interested in has to do with whether there have been changes in sleep at the population level,” Krizan said. “So sleep changes a lot from day to day, some people sleep better than others, but do we see basically broad societal changes in sleep?”
Large scale government surveys suggest people sleep less, which has been connected with the rise of mobile devices, Krizan said. Technology can be found everywhere, whether it is cell phones, tablets, televisions, laptops and more.
While there may be some error in the results, Krizan said he and his research team witnessed a trend throughout the survey with difficulty of falling and staying asleep.
“Unfortunately, what we found here is that more people reported at least one day a week of difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep,” Krizan said. “And that’s about one percent to two percent increase over that five years period. That might not seem by much, but we’re talking about one to two percent of population, so that’s millions of people.”
Muranovic began working with Krizan about two years ago and said she is interested in going to medical school. Muranovic has worked on a few projects with Krizan and helped with this study on sleep.
“People are constantly available,” Muranovic said. “It’s not a nine to five job anymore. Once you go home, you have your laptop, you have your cell phone, you’re constantly able to be contacted, which makes it much harder to have a normal schedule.”
While many college-aged students and individuals within that age demographic have fallen into the "technology trap," consistently entering the world that lives right at their fingertips, it could be taking effect on people’s health.
“Because [technology] is something we can have on our person all the time, it sort of invaded the bedroom,” Krizan said. “Now that’s [the] part where we are used to being used to unplug and forget the daily hassles. Now those hassles are right there, often right next to you.”
Falling asleep with the TV on, checking social media minutes before setting an alarm and pulling all-nighters studying late before shutting off for the night are all major factors that could be affecting how people sleep.
According to the University of Georgia’s Health Center website, adults need approximately six to 10 hours of sleep a night or more if needed. Students can try to catch up on sleep on nights they aren’t as busy or on the weekends.
Adam Burns, freshman in pre-business, said he experiences difficulty sleeping.
“It varies, usually on the weekend I get more [sleep] because I don’t have to get up for school, but Monday through Friday, at max, about three hours a night,” Burns said. “In a seven-day week, on average, [I sleep] about 15 hours.”
Sleep aides have risen in popularity, especially with college-aged students. When looking for assistance for falling asleep, there is a range of solutions including a variety of sounds, medications and a series of breathing machines and earplugs.
“I used to take medications, but you wake up feeling too groggy,” Burns said. “I used to take melatonin, but it doesn’t really work. Nothing really works at this point, honestly.”
Burns said he resorts to caffeine as his main tactic for being able to stay awake throughout the day when he’s tired from a lack of sleep.
“There’s many consequences, and they accumulate at different rates,” Krizan said. “Initially, you can have a little bit of coffee, then you don’t feel so tired, you can pretty much be performing well. However, it’s the sleep that accumulates, not that you just feel worse, but things take a longer time. Things seem harder; when you’re sleepy, the same thing that you normally do seems harder; as a result, what you do is avoid doing those things.”
It can be difficult to find the cause of social changes such as a lack of sleep and a decrease in quality of sleep. There has been an increase in technology. Other factors like anxiety can affect a person’s sleep patterns, and a lack of sleep can cause more problems with a person’s mental health.
“It’s going to affect your mental state,” Muranovic said. “There have been studies that link decreased sleep and depression in various ways. You’re not going to be able to work at your full capacity.”
Technology such as Instagram on people’s phones or watching Netflix can act as a distraction. It keeps the brain busy when attempting to get ready for sleep. The light of technology can also keep people awake and interrupt how well they sleep.
“You need to set up a habit, a routine, where you unplug at some point,” Krizan said. “Not bringing the phone into the bedroom. Having some other kind of ritual: taking a bath, reading a book, listening to music — something that you’re able to basically unplug from all the things you’re obsessing over throughout the day.”
Sleeping in a dark room with a cooler temperature and avoiding technology use before bed can help people fall asleep more efficiently and have better rest.
“Try to listen to your body, see what it wants to do, when it gets tired naturally,” Muranovic said. “Adjusting the light settings on your phone, getting away from those blue lights. There have been a lot of recent studies that indicate that causes you to be more awake, so your brain isn’t starting to produce melatonin until a much later time.”