Can’t get to sleep… ever? Toss and turn until your alarm goes off? You may suffer from insomnia: symptoms of insomnia include trouble falling asleep, waking at night and not being able to fall back asleep, not getting enough sleep, or overall unsatisfactory sleep. Statistics show that as many as 30 percent of adults suffer from sleep disruption while approximately 10 percent has symptoms of functional impairment consistent with the diagnosis of insomnia.
Insomnia can develop into a chronic problem, lasting for many months, or even years.
According to the National Institutes of Health, insomnia affects more than 70 million Americans. Direct costs of insomnia, which include dollars spent on insomnia treatment, healthcare services, hospital and nursing home care, are estimated at nearly $14 billion annually, and indirect costs from work loss, property damage from accidents and transportation to and from healthcare providers ring in at approximately $28 billion.
What Is “Enough” Sleep?
Contrary to popular belief, there is no magical number of sleep hours that we must get every night to achieve good sleep. “Enough” sleep usually varies between 6 to 8 hours a night for the average person; it all depends on the number of hours you need to achieve a good sleep and feel rested and refreshed during the day.
How can you find out? Keep a sleep diary for at least one week. Keeping track of the time when you go to bed, the time at which you fall asleep, and the time when you awake in the morning can help you gain insight on your sleep habits. Every morning, record the number of hours of sleep you had, rate your sleep quality from poor to excellent and be aware of how you’re functioning during the day.
At the end of the week, average out the number of hours you had every night of those days when you were feeling good. This is the number you should be concentrating on. So, if you had an average of 6 to 7 hours of sleep on your good days, then you should be getting 6 to 7 hours of sleep a night.
Who Is Susceptible?
Insomnia can target any one of us; everyday stressors, anxiety, or depression can cause disturbances in our sleep. It can also be a symptom of an underlying circadian, psychological, and/or physical disorders.
Women seem to suffer from insomnia more than men. Interestingly, women’s sleep quality tends to decrease 3 days before menstruation and during the menstruation period. With age, menopause can also cause sleep disturbances in women.
Partying until daylight is one thing, but staying awake all hours when you’d rather be snoozing definitely not fun. Poor sleep quality can take its toll on a person: lack of concentration, low energy, poor memory, decreased alertness, feeling emotionally low and poor work quality are only some downsides of inadequate sleep.
Drivers, beware: severe sleep deprivation is just as dangerous as being intoxicated with alcohol. Traffic accidents often happen when people don’t sleep very well the night before.
Common Treatments for Insomnia
Sleeping pills are usually the first treatment that pops into people’s minds. The problem with sleeping pills is that they have been shown to be addictive with continued use, and the symptoms of insomnia usually return as soon as the meds are discontinued.
Because patients develop tolerance to any sedative medication, it is common to require a higher dosage of the medication in order to get the same effect as the first time the pills were taken.
The jury is still out on whether sleep meds are safe or not.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (see Sleep Like a Baby, below) has been shown to be the most effective insomnia treatment to date.
If you’re wondering about mixing the pharmacological and cognitive-behavioral therapies, wait: studies have shown that CBT alone is enough to help you get a good night’s sleep, without the sleeping pills.
Sleep Like a Baby
Keep the Bed and Bedroom for Sleep Only
Your mind links one thing to another when they occur side-by-side. Even seemingly harmless activities like reading or talking on the phone in your bed or bedroom can cause sleep disturbances at night, because you will associate the two activities with wakefulness. You need to associate your bed with sleep, so keep your bed and bedroom for sleep only.
Limit the time you spend in bed to your actual sleep time. Trying to force yourself to fall asleep by tossing and turning in bed will do you no good, and may in fact worsen your sleep. If you can’t fall asleep within 15 minutes of going to bed, get up, get out of your bedroom, engage in a mild activity (like watching TV or reading) until you feel sleepy.
Avoid Stimulants Before Bed
This goes without saying, but stimulants will make it difficult to fall asleep, so avoid indulging just before you plan on going to sleep: eliminate caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bedtime.
Think Happy Thoughts
Don’t take your worries to bed with you: use the “worry-chair” technique. This is something all of us can benefit from: give yourself an hour or two in the evening to focus on your worries and try to solve them then, so that your mind remains worry-free as you take it to bed.
Use the “thought-stopping” technique: stop the worrisome thoughts before they invade your mind. We have more control over our thoughts than we think we do. As soon as you feel an intruding thought coming on, you simply say “stop!” to yourself and focus on something pleasant instead. Think of trees, calm water and sunshine.
Don’t Sleep When You Should Be Awake
Don’t nap during the day. Napping will only disturb your sleep rhythm.
Stick to a Sleep Schedule
Get up at the same time every morning (yes, weekends included). Even if you went to bed at 4 a.m. after a long night of partying, make sure you get up at the same time in the morning as you would a regular day. Use an alarm clock if you have to.
Create a Harmonious Sleep Environment
Make sure your bed and bedroom are comfortable and cozy. Get rid of extreme temperatures, noises and light.
Take It Easy
Relax before going to bed. Meditate, take a hot bath, or engage in a mild activity like reading to unwind and ease your mind and body into a rested state.