You toss and turn. You stare at the clock, precious seconds tick away that you could be sleeping . . . if only you could fall asleep.
Sleeping habits are something that come up at my office at FENOM Women’s Care often. If the above scenario is a common one for you, you may be suffering from insomnia. Simply put, insomnia is difficulty falling or staying asleep. Not getting good solid, lengthy sleep can manifest itself in several ways the next day. You could feel tired, irritable, find it difficult to concentrate, and may see performance at work or school diminish. The National Sleep Foundation states almost one-third of adults have some sort of sleep disorder.
Insomnia can sometimes be an acute event, usually a reaction to a stressful or anxiety producing situation, such as a big test, a big trip, or a big event. I vividly remember the night before I had my labor induced with my second kid, I was out doing yard work at midnight because I couldn’t sleep. Acute- or short-term insomnia can also happen after stressful events, like the loss of a loved one, a big fight with a significant other, or receiving bad news of any kind. Stressful events can lead to more than one sleepless night as you process what is occurring. Acute insomnia like this does not need treatment, and should resolve as the situation resolves.
Chronic insomnia, however, is a persistent. To be classified as chronic insomnia, symptoms must be present at least three nights a week for three months. There are several things that can lead to or worsen insomnia. Some circumstances are unavoidable, for example shift workers whose natural circadian rhythms are disrupted due to work schedules. Some medications (see list below) may increase insomnia. Depression and anxiety are often partnered with insomnia, and there is often a chicken-and-egg debate with mood disorders and sleep disturbances. However, there are many lifestyle factors that can make the uphill climb to slumber more difficult and, when modified, can ease your way to a restful night.
Good “sleep hygiene” is the first step in trying to reclaim your nights. This is tackled on several fronts and includes, but is not limited to, the following recommendations:
Limit afternoon caffeine. Keep that coffee, soda, and tea drinking limited to lunchtime or earlier. Specifically no caffeinated beverages after 2:00 p.m. If you are in search of an afternoon pick-me-up, find a caffeine-free replacement (this is when I bust out my flavored sparkling waters).
Reduce screen time. Those magical little devices we all carry in our hands, and where you may be reading this right now, are devised to keep our attention and keep our brain turned on. Ditch the screen two hours before bedtime. You can read a book, listen to music or podcasts, but keep your eyes off the screen with its blue, activating lights. There are filtered glasses you can wear if work necessitates you working on your laptop or tablet until bedtime that filter out the blue light, or use the “night mode” on your smart device.
Limit alcohol. While a glass of wine or a cocktail may relax you, too much alcohol will absolutely interfere with good sleep.
Have a bedtime routine. Adults need a good routine just like kids do. Having a routine that is consistent signals your mind and body it’s time to wind down and rest. This could include a bath, or just washing your face and putting on pajamas, some quiet time or meditation, reading, journaling, or just chatting with your partner or a friend. But doing the same routine nightly will train your body for bedtime.
Don’t watch TV, work, or read in bed. Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash Your bed should be limited to two activities: sleeping and sex. Train your body and mind that beds are for sleeping, not spreading out your evening’s work. If you don’t move physical spaces from wakeful to sleeping activities, it’s hard to move mentally.
Add exercise. The benefits of exercise extend throughout your day and into the night. It’s been shown that those who exercise consistently have better, consistent sleep routine. One caveat is that doing vigorous exercise before bed can make it harder to fall asleep. So if it’s a hardcore cardio or strength day, try to do those workouts before dinner so you have time to wind down. Yoga or stretching can be wonderful pre-bedtime exercises and can be incorporated your bedtime routine.
Train to relax. This can be done through a variety of ways, but sequential body relaxation can help reduce muscular tension and mental tension. Many sleep apps can focus on this and can be very helpful.
Medicate only as needed. Talk to your doctor before starting an over-the-counter sleep aid, or if the above techniques are not working for you. There are prescription sleep aids that some doctors will prescribe, but these are to be used with caution and only under physician supervision.
Talking to your doctor about your sleep habits and concerns is a great place to start. There may be an indication for testing like a sleep study for some individuals, depending on your symptoms. Your doctor can help identify a lifestyle habit that needs to be tweaked.
If you’re going to speak to your physician about sleep, it’s helpful to keep a journal with habits, intake, sleep duration, symptoms, etc. Some fitness tracking devices can also help track your sleep and can help provide good objective data, if you’re not sure how you’re sleeping. Sleep is an important part of your overall health, so make sure if you’re struggling to catch your shut-eye to speak with your physician.
Also, consider your medications. Some may contribute to insomnia:
Blood pressure medications
- Beta blockers
- Cold and cough medications
- Headache medications (caffeine containing)
- Nicotine replacements
- Asthma and allergy medications
- Antihistamines for allergies
- Theophylline for asthma
- Stimulants (for ADHD)
- Thyroid medications
Originally published at How to Battle Insomnia: