Insomnia – the need for a good night's sleep
By: Erin Louks-Smith, M.D.
Your head hits the pillow later than you’d like and your alarm rings each morning earlier than you’d like. In between you sometimes wake up in the middle of the night worrying about your job, the kids, the mortgage and whether you have enough cereal for the next morning’s breakfast.
You go through your day feeling groggy and unrested – for good reason – because you are. You are not alone. It is estimated that 30 million Americans don’t get enough sleep.
Sleep loss is a serious matter. The Center for Disease Control cites insufficient sleep as a public health epidemic, saying health risks associated chronic sleep loss include hypertension, diabetes, depression and obesity. In addition, studies on sleep have linked sleep deficits with a weakening of the immune system and mood problems like anger and depression. The CDC notes other outcomes include difficulties with concentration, memory, driving and work performance.
Insomnia is the inability to obtain sleep that is sufficient in length to make a person feel rested the next day. It occurs when a person has trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep and often results in daytime fatigue.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, people today sleep about 20 percent less than they did 100 years ago; that equates to 20 percent of Americans getting less than six hours of sleep per night. Other statistics: More than half of Americans lose sleep due to stress or anxiety. Women are twice as likely to suffer from insomnia than men and approximately 35 percent of people with insomnia have a family history of insomnia.
Amount of sleep needed varies from person to person. Some adults may be comfortable with six hours a night; others require eight. In general, the need for sleep is influenced by age. Infants require about 16 hours a day; teenagers should average nine hours and most adults need seven to eight hours a night.
Sleep deprivation is cumulative. That is, the longer you go without getting enough sleep, the bigger your sleep “debt” grows. Eventually, your body wants that debt repaid and until it is, you’ll experience the negative consequences associated with insomnia such as inability to concentrate and memory problems.
While there are over-the-counter as well as prescription medication options for treating insomnia, there are a number of environmental and lifestyle factors you can alter to improve your chance for a good night’s rest.
Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool and quiet. Cover windows with light blocking curtains or shades.
Unplug yourself. Turn off the TV and computer at least 30 minutes before going to bed.
Cut back on caffeine; its effects can take as long as eight hours to wear off. Stay away from caffeine for at least four to six hours before bedtime.
Stay away from alcohol. It may initially help you fall asleep, but it also causes disturbances in sleep and less restful sleep.
Restrict nicotine. It is a stimulant and its effects are similar to caffeine.
Don’t eat a large meal right before bedtime, however avoid going to bed hungry. If you need to eat something before retiring for the night, make it a small snack or glass of milk.
Avoid napping during the day. Too much daytime sleep can inhibit your nightly sleep and can keep you in the vicious cycle of sleep deprivation. If you find it necessary to take a nap during the day, make it short; just15 to 20 minutes can prove to be rejuvenating.
Pay attention to when you exercise and whether it could be disrupting your sleep. Some people find exercising in the evening prevents them from going to sleep.
Develop a calming routine that allows you to break from the day’s tensions and relax before your head hits the pillow.
When to call the doctor
In many instances, you can alleviate your insomnia problems by changing your lifestyle habits and altering your environment. Other situations warrant a call to your doctor. Contact your primary care physician if:
You think sleep problems may be related to an underlying health condition such as hypertension or depression.
You snore loudly or make snorting or gasping noises while asleep. This could indicate another sleep disturbance known as sleep apnea.
You fall asleep during normal daily activities.
You feel constantly fatigued – even just after awakening.
You suspect yout medication is causing your sleep issues.
Your insomnia lasts for more than a few weeks.
Sleep: it’s one of those things many of us take for granted – until we don’t get enough. Sleep deprivation brought on by insomnia can cause health problems, emotional issues as well as difficulty functioning at work and home. You don’t have to take insomnia lying down. Environment and lifestyle factors can influence your odds of getting a good night’s sleep. If insomnia becomes chronic, or doesn’t respond to lifestyle changes, contact your doctor.
Dr. Louks Smith is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic.