How to Get a Good Night's Sleep

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According to National Sleep Foundation surveys, over half of Americans report occasional sleep problems. Twenty-two percent report that they have trouble sleeping every night. Sleep problems include difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings during the night, trouble getting back to sleep, waking too early, or waking still feeling fatigued.  Insomnia occurs more often in women than men and is more common among those over 65 years of age.

Causes of Insomnia

Insomnia can be acute – just for a few days or maybe a week.  It can also be chronic, lasting for more than a month.  Causes include stress, anxiety, depression, illness, pain, medications, sleep disorders and poor sleep habits.

Consequences of Insomnia

Insomnia has serious consequences.  Inability to concentrate, difficulty problem-solving or making decisions, increased injury rate on the job and car accidents are among the results.  Professor Max Hirshkowitz, a sleep expert, has said, “If you take all the people that die on the highway from falling asleep at the wheel in a week and you add them up, that’s the equivalent of a major fully loaded airplane crashing every day.”  Direct economic costs have been estimated at $14 billion a year and indirect costs up to $100 billion annually.

Tips to Improve Your Sleep

    •  Watch what you eat and drink.  Cut back or eliminate caffeine from coffee, teas, chocolate,

          cola drinks, etc. Some people lose sleep from as little as one cup of coffee in the  

          morning.  Alcohol may help you get to sleep initially, but it tends to disrupt your sleep    

          during the night.  Drink less or none at all – especially later in the day.  Don’t eat heavy

          meals late in the day – especially foods that cause you heartburn.  If waking during the

          night to go to the bathroom is a problem, restrict fluids late in the day.

    •  Regular exercise helps sleep.  But, you should exercise no later than three to six hours

          before bedtime.

    •  Nicotine is a stimulant.  Reduce or stop smoking.  Again, this is especially important late in

         the day.

    •  Make your bedroom an inviting place for sleep.  Most experts claim that a slightly cool

          room is best.  It should also be dark.  If noise is a problem, experiment with ear plugs,

          white noise machines, relaxing music, etc.  The mattress you sleep on makes a

          difference.  Make sure that it gives you the comfort, support and space you need.  Use

          your bedroom only for sleeping, sex and changing clothes.  This will

         cue your brain that it is time for sleep when you go to your bedroom.

    •  Set yourself up to sleep well.  Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.  Have a

          relaxing routine for an hour or so before bedtime.  Stop all work, phone calls and other

          activities that can stimulate you.  Read, listen to relaxing music, take a warm bath,

          meditate, etc.  No napping – especially late in the afternoon.  If you do nap, make sure it

          is no longer than 15-20 minutes.

    •  If you don’t sleep long enough, start by setting your alarm to get up after the number of

          hours of sleep you currently get.  Then, gradually increase the time you allot for sleep by

          15 minutes every few nights.

    •  If you wake and have difficulty getting back to sleep, try this:  When you don’t fall asleep

          within 15 minutes, get out of bed and engage in another relaxing activity until you are

          sleepy.  Then go back to bed again.  Laying in bed awake for long periods disrupts your

          body’s association between bed and sleep.

    •  If you lay awake worrying about things, put a “Worry Book” on your bedside table.  Write

          down what you are worrying about and tell yourself that you will take care of it in the

          morning.  Think relaxing thoughts about times or aspects of your life when you are

          soothed, calmed, peaceful, etc.  If stress about some situation is keeping you awake,

          take care of the source of that stress.  See a counselor if it will be helpful.  You may want

          to take some relaxation training.

    •  If insomnia continues to be a problem for you, see your physician.  It is likely that he or she

          will prescribe medication that will help you.  If necessary, you may be referred to a sleep

          center for testing and treatment.  Be cautious with the use of over-the-counter drugs.  

          They are usually not as effective as prescription medications.  Many of them are mostly

          antihistamines that can create undesirable side effects and risks.  These include

          dangerous interaction with other drugs, prolonged sleepiness in the morning, intenified

          effects if used by someone who also drinks alcohol, etc.

Sleep is important for good health and quality of life.  See your physician if the suggestions in this article don’t help you.  There are many causes of insomnia and many appropriate treatments.  Your health care professional can help you get the sleep you need.

© Glen Rediehs, Ph.D.

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