By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE
Insomnia: Possible Solutions to Common Sleep Problems
If you are having sleep problems or feel tired during the day, a visit with you healthcare provider is the best first step. Any underlying problems that are contributing to or causing your sleep problems should be addressed first.
In many cases, lifestyle changes can help promote sleep. Keep in mind that what works for some individuals may not work for others. So, your best bet is to find out what’s effective for you and stick with it. In general, try to build into your schedule time for eight hours of sleep, and follow this routine as regularly as possible even on the weekends. (Get up at 7 a.m. and go to sleep at 10 p.m.).
Here are a few tips many people have found to be useful:
1. Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the late afternoon and evening. Caffeine and nicotine can delay your sleep, and alcohol may interrupt your sleep later in the night.
2. Exercise regularly, but do so at least three hours before bedtime. A workout after that time may actually keep you awake because your body has not had a chance to cool down.
3. Don’t use your bed for anything other than sleep or sex. Your bed should be associated with sleep.
4. Consider your sleep environment. Make it as pleasant, comfortable, dark and quiet as you can.
If you have insomnia or trouble sleeping when you go to bed, don’t nap during the day, since it affects your ability to sleep at night.
Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine that will allow you to unwind and send a “signal’ to your brain that it’s time to sleep. Avoiding exposure to bright light before bedtime and taking a hot bath may help.
If you can’t go to sleep after 30 minutes, don’t stay in bed tossing and turning. Get up and involve yourself in a relaxing activity, such as listening to soothing music or reading, until you feel sleepy. Remember: Try to clear your mind; don’t use this time to solve your daily problems.
So you might ask, “When do I need to seek help?” If your sleep problems persist for longer than a week and are bothersome, or if sleepiness interferes with the way you feel or function during the day, a clinician’s help may be needed. To get the most out of your visit, you’ll find it is often helpful to keep a diary of your sleep habits for about ten days to identify just how much sleep you’re getting over a period of time and what you may be doing to interfere with it. It can help you document your problem. If the problem is the time it takes to fall asleep, staying asleep or waking up un-refreshed, lifestyle changes or behavioral approaches to treating the problem may be recommended. However, lifestyle changes alone may not be enough. Treating insomnia with medication is the most common treatment for these sleep problems. In most cases, medication is only used until the immediate stressor is under control or lifestyle changes have had a chance to work.
While many individuals will try an over-the-counter medicine to help them sleep, these should be taken with caution. Alcohol should not be used as a sleep aid.
For sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, a sleep study will provide more information about your sleep pattern and whether you are breathing regularly while you sleep. The bottom line is this: Adequate sleep is as essential to health and peak performance as exercise and good nutrition. If you aren’t getting enough, talk to your healthcare provider. You deserve it.