The causes of insomnia and suggestions to combat sleeplessness.
Insomnia--When Sleep Won’t Come
Insomnia is the most common complaint that brings people to their doctor’s office according to the National Sleep Foundation. Many American men and women don’t get the recommended eight hours of sleep each night. The 2002 “Sleep in America” poll reported that 58% of adults experience sleeplessness at least a few nights each week, and 35% of adults experience some symptoms of insomnia every night.
Insomnia refers to the inability to obtain sufficient sleep. The problem may involve difficulty falling asleep, even when you are tired. Some people are able to get to sleep when they go to bed, but they wake in the middle of the night and have trouble getting back to sleep. Others wake early, and are not able to go back to sleep. Those with insomnia experience one or more of these problems. In addition to not getting enough hours of sleep, the sleep of an insomniac is not of good quality. If you often begin the day not feeling rested and refreshed after a night’s sleep, you may have insomnia.
Lack of sleep causes a person to feel drowsy, fatigued, irritable, and have difficulty concentrating during their waking hours. The larger a person’s sleep debt, the more obvious and debilitating the problems become. When someone is sleep deprived, they may fall asleep in the middle of some important activity. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that every year more than 100,000 auto accidents in the United States are caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel. If you are sleep deprived, be aware of your limitations. You may prove to be a danger to yourself, or anyone along your daily path.
When you are sleep deprived, try to avoid the temptation of an afternoon nap. If you are able to follow a regular routine you are more likely to be tired and fall asleep at your regular bedtime. A nap may bring short term relief, but it will also confuse your daily metabolic cycle. Our regular metabolism expects that we will be active during the day, and have the night for rebuilding and restoring. In terms of energy, the human body is much like a battery. When the power is on, an individual is awake, alert, and functioning. At some point the power becomes drained, and sleep is required to recharge the battery. If you’ve ever watched a solar light dim in the pre-dawn hours, you have a good visual of an individual with insomnia.
Understanding and practicing good sleep hygiene techniques can improve the time and quality of your sleep by getting you to sleep in less time, and ensuring that you stay asleep the entire night. With eight hours, a person has time to experience all stages of sleep. If you sleep fewer hours, the sleep stages are cut short, and you will experience very little deep sleep, which is what we require to begin the day refreshed. Any time you get fewer than eight hours of sleep, ask yourself “why”. If the cause of your abbreviated sleep is within your power to change, take action. Too often one night of missed sleep turns into a fortnight of sleep difficulties.
The body itself is rather busy while you sleep. Processes for skin regeneration, hormonal messages associated with age and gender, and many other functions take place during the night. Blood must circulate sufficiently for all parts of the body to be nourished. If you eat a large, heavy dinner immediately before retiring, your blood flow will be monopolized by the digestive system. Plan to have your evening meal two or three hours before retiring for the night.
Ease into your evening so that your body can relax, and your mind can unwind. Deal with stressful or problematic situations early so that you’re not carrying mental challenges to bed. An hour or so before retiring settle in with a good novel or listen to relaxing music. Many people find that a warm bath relaxes both the body and mind. If you chose to relax in front of the television, you’ll find that a documentary program is more likely to encourage sleep than an action or suspense movie.
Avoid drinking mass quantities of fluids before you turn in so your kidneys won’t have a reason to wake you. Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages after 4:00 pm. Drinking alcoholic beverages in the evening will have a negative effect on your sleep. Though some people believe that a night time toddy helps them to sleep, they are setting themselves up for potential problems. When the alcohol clears your system, you’ll wake up. If you have difficulty getting back to sleep, you’ve only shifted the time of the problem rather than finding a solution.
Your sleeping environment should be conducive to sleep. The room should be dark, quiet, cool, and free of distractions. Those who experience problems sleeping should use their beds only for sleep and sex. Your mattress should give you adequate support, and you should have enough space to stretch your limbs. Whatever kind of head, neck, and body support you get from pillows should not require achieving a distorted position. The best position to begin sleep is on your back.
If you can’t get to sleep after 20-25 minutes in bed, get up and do something relaxing. If you can’t sleep because your brain won’t stop, try writing about what’s on your mind. If you expect tomorrow to be a particular challenge, make a list of what you need to do. If hostility or anger is keeping you awake, write a letter to or about your problem—you don’t have to mail it. Once you’ve written down the thoughts bouncing around in your head, you’ve not only cleared your mind for the short term, but you’ve also prepared a response to what is troubling you. Don’t allow waking difficulties to interfere with sleep.
If you experience difficulty sleeping for several consecutive nights, you may need outside help to break the cycle. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your insomnia and receive a physical exam. Insomnia can be a symptom of an underlying medical problem. Once diagnosed, the problem can be treated and your regular sleep pattern will return.
Your physician can also prescribe sleep medication. The new generation of sleep aids, including Ambien, Lunesta, and Rozerum, can help you fall asleep without causing morning grogginess. Let your doctor know about all the prescription and over the counter medications you are taking, as well as any vitamins, supplements, and homeopathic remedies. Certain drugs, or combination of drugs, produce side effects that impact sleep. Recreational drugs alter your metabolic rate, which in turn adversely affects your quality of sleep. The nicotine in cigarettes passes into the smoker’s body, and when it wears off, the smoker is likely to wake up. What you ingest during the day will affect your sleep.
Stress and depression are the two most frequent causes of insomnia. The elderly and those with chronic pain often have trouble falling asleep. People who travel across time zones find their sleeping patterns disrupted. Shift workers face the challenge of resetting their biological clocks. Individuals of all ages occasionally have trouble falling asleep. If sleeplessness is affecting your waking hours, take steps to remedy the situation. Develop a night time ritual that will help you relax into restful sleep and peaceful dreams.