Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Demanding lifestyles – especially for women with children – often make this impossible, but it’s important to make the proverbial good night’s sleep a priority. It’s normal for everyone to have trouble sleeping once in a while – but if you have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep at least three times a week for a month or more, you might be suffering from chronic insomnia
Insomnia – What Causes It
Insomnia can be brought on by a number of factors, both physical and psychological. If you maintain erratic hours during the week – working nights or split shifts, for example – and then try to catch up on weekends, this interrupts your body’s internal clock (called circadian rhythm) and can lead to sleep problems. Drinking coffee or other beverages with caffeine, like cola- or chocolate-flavored soft drinks, in the evening may not keep you from falling asleep, but it might cause awakening during the night. This is also true for alcohol. Nicotine is a stimulant that could inhibit smokers’ ability to fall asleep. Insomnia can also be a side effect from medications such as decongestants, some pain relievers and steroids. People suffering from arthritis, asthma and heart disease might also exhibit signs of insomnia. Restless leg syndrome (involuntary muscle contractions) and heartburn (medically referred to as gastroesophageal reflux) often interrupt sleep as well. Insomnia is a common symptom of depression and other mental health problems, including anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders and dementia. Stress frequently causes insomnia; worrying about problems in your life can easily disrupt normal sleep patterns. If chronic insomnia has seriously compromised your quality of life, consult a physician.
Insomnia – What You Can Do
When insomnia is secondary to a medical issue, it often goes away when the problem is resolved. Prescription sleep medication can sometimes break an insomnia cycle, but this should be monitored by a physician and sleeping pills shouldn’t be used for an indefinite period of time. Supplements such as melatonin (a hormone that is naturally produced in the body) and valerian (an herb) are marketed as insomnia aids, but there is no scientific evidence to back up these claims. There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make that will improve your sleep habits and possibly have a beneficial impact on insomnia. Use your bed only for sleep and sex – no reading or watching TV, which can scramble your body’s inner clock into thinking it’s activity time, not sleep time. Shut out as much light as possible in your bedroom when you’re going to sleep. Practice deep breathing exercises and relaxation therapy, which can often be helpful to falling asleep. Also consider setting up a sleep schedule, where you get into bed and wake up the same time every day. Once you’re in bed, if you haven’t fallen asleep after about 15 minutes, get out of bed and sit or read quietly elsewhere, until you feel sleepy. Don’t watch TV or do anything stimulating, which might keep you up even longer. Exercising every day will help you fall asleep quickly at night – but do it early in the day, as exercising in the evening can have the opposite effect. Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake during the day, and cut them out entirely at least six hours before bedtime. Oddly enough, napping may help with insomnia; a “power” nap of about half an hour in the afternoon can improve your energy for the rest of the day plus make it easier to sleep at night.