Are you losing precious sleep or worrying about losing sleep? You may start dreading bedtime as you predict you won’t be able to fall asleep for hours or that you’ll wake up at 4 a.m., as usual, and not be able to fall back asleep.
If so, you could be one of the 30% of the adult population that suffers from insomnia. Despairing or expecting sleeplessness makes insomnia worse. Sleep is as essential to your health as eating right and exercising. It is vital for repairing, re-energizing and refreshing both your body and mind.
It seems that the longer you have problems with sleep, the more thoughts about it start to occupy your thinking. Worrying about getting to sleep or how tired you are going to be tomorrow floods your body with adrenaline, making it even harder to fall asleep.
Insomnia is not how many hours you sleep or how quickly you nod off. It is a myth that everyone needs 8 hours of sleep, although it is true that most people do best with between 7 and 9 hours nightly. Insomnia is defined by the quality of your sleep and how you feel after sleeping.
You should feel rested and refreshed after you sleep, regardless of the number of hours you slept.
If you are tossing and turning in bed all night there may be hidden reasons:
1.Anxiety or depression
Emotional issues such as chronic stress, anxiety and depression are estimated to account for about half of all cases of insomnia. Most people experiencing anxiety or depression have trouble sleeping.
Furthermore, the lack of sleep increases the symptoms. With the rise in unemployment, poor job outlook, and worldwide economic woes, depression and anxiety can only increase. Many other psychological disorders are associated with insomnia including bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
2. Being a woman
Unfortunately, just being a woman puts you at greater risk of suffering from sleeplessness. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women are twice as likely as men to have insomnia. Not to mention the wreaking of havoc on your sleep by menstrual cycles, menopause, hormones, being a new mom, stress or being single. Yes, even being single.
A 2009 University of Pittsburgh study of 360 middle-aged women found that single women slept less well than those in stable marriages.
Many people still believe that alcohol at bedtime will help them sleep. Alcohol does make you feel calm and drowsy initially, allowing you to fall asleep quicker but it has the opposite effect later.
It actually increases the number of times you wake up during the night; you will experience 15 to 25 more “brain arousals” than if you had not consumed alcohol. Plus long term alcohol use can lead to severe insomnia.
Caffeine is a stimulant that has a half-life of about 5 hours, which means that after 5 hours only half has been eliminated from your body. After 10 hours, 3/4th is gone. However, there is still 1/8th left in your body at 15 hours which is usually right around bedtime.
Those are just averages; many people eliminate caffeine even slower than that. It isn’t surprising then that teenagers complain of sleeplessness when so many of them consume soft drinks with caffeine or energy drinks late in the afternoon.
Some people lay awake at night worrying about their job, a test or performance the next day, money, relationships or any number of other issues.
Other people lose sleep over losing sleep. They know they need about 8 hours of sleep in order to function at their best the next day and they worry about not getting that sleep.
Nicotine is a stimulant and all stimulants keep you from falling asleep.
Quit smoking or avoid it at night; your body experiences nicotine withdrawal every time you go to sleep. Your brain wakes up an extra 15-20 times every night, preventing you from getting a restful sleep.
7. Sleep disorder
An undiagnosed or inadequately treated sleep disorder is a common reason for chronic sleeplessness. A sleep disorder is a medical disorder that affects a person’s sleep patterns.
Insomnia is a form of sleep disorder where difficulty sleeping has no obvious cause. Disruption of sleep can be caused by a variety of medical issues; some of the more common sleep disorders are:
- Sleep apnea (more than 50% of people with sleep apnea have insomnia)
- Bruxism (teeth grinding)
- Night terrors
- Restless legs syndrome
- Circadian rhythm disorders (including jet lag and delayed sleep phase disorder)
“Sleep hygiene” refers to the control of behavioral and environmental factors that may interfere with sleep. It is the practice of following guidelines to encourage more restful and effective sleep; it is used to promote daytime alertness as well as treat insomnia and other sleep disorders.
If you are having difficulty sleeping, you may need to improve your sleep hygiene. Here are key recommendations for developing good sleep hygiene:
- Have a comfortable bedroom that is used only for sleeping or sex- no TV or computer
- Your bedroom should be dark, quiet and cool
- No napping during the day (definitely not after 3 p.m.; no more than 30 minutes)
- Limit alcohol; avoid at night
- Limit nicotine; avoid at night
- Limit caffeine; try to avoid 6 to 8 hours before bedtime
- No serious physical exercise 3 hours before bedtime
- Avoid stimulating activities near bedtime; try to relax just before bedtime