Most of us have experienced the awful feeling of a sleepless night. You’re lying in bed, watching the clock tick away, your mind racing. You desperately need to sleep—a long day is ahead—but you just can’t.
How often does this happen to you? If you experience insomnia two or three times a week, you could be suffering from a sleeping disorder. You could also be stressed about your personal or work life.
Types of Insomnia
Insomnia can be transient, short-term or chronic. Transient insomnia lasts for a few nights, while short-term insomnia lasts for about two to four weeks. Both occur because of stress, external noise, extreme temperature changes, disrupted sleeping habits (such as jet lag) and the side effects of medication.
Insomnia is chronic when it lasts over a month and begins to affect your daily life. It is usually caused by medical, physical or deep-seated psychological problems, a sleep disorder, medication or usage of substances. In these circumstances, a medical consultation is imperative.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
It’s all relative, but most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. As you age, you need less sleep.
What Can Be Done?
You have more to do with your lack of sleep than you realize. You could be doing something continuously in your lifestyle that perpetuates insomnia. For instance, drinking four cups of coffee a day is probably not helpful. It pays to examine your lifestyle to see what can be done to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.
Review Your Dietary Habits
Getting better sleep starts with your diet. You shouldn’t take caffeine, nicotine and alcohol four to six hours before bedtime. Coffee, caffeinated drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and tea all contain stimulants, which will definitely keep your mind alert and your eyes wide open. The same goes for cigarettes, as they contain nicotine—also a stimulant. So stop smoking too close to bedtime (that can be a good reason to quit). Sloshing down copious amounts of alcohol close to bedtime for a “nightcap” when you’re depressed or stressed will only keep you up, making you even grumpier in the morning.
Try not to take too heavy a meal before going off to bed. It will sit in your stomach and make you feel too bloated and queasy to doze off. However, don’t go to bed hungry either—all that endless rumbling will prevent you from getting your winks. Instead, have a light snack of wheat crackers or something similar. A glass of warm milk also works wonders.
Adjust Your Habits
Besides changing your dietary habits, make adjustments to your behavior to pave the way for a good night’s sleep. Never exercise too close to bedtime. You may feel good sweating it out initially, but all that adrenaline will just keep you awake later on. If you must work out, do it well before bedtime—at least four hours before. This will give your body adequate time to wind down.
The mind is also an extremely sensitive thing. If you keep doing work, watching TV, eating, or worrying in bed, your mind and body will eventually associate the bed with work. So much so that when you climb into bed, your mind will still be in active mode as it believes you should be engaging in activity. Try to use your bed only for sleeping (and sex of course!).
Go to sleep only when you’re about to zonk off. If you go to bed feeling all bright-eyed and chirpy, chances are you’ll take a long time to drift into sleep. However, if you’re already sleepy when you hit the sheets, you’ll fall asleep quickly and spare yourself the agony of tossing and turning.
Reading also helps. Pick up the dullest tome you can find. The mind-numbing monotony of reading your washing machine manual, for instance, is almost certain to make your lids close.
If you fall asleep but wake up and cannot resume your sleep, don’t lie there. If it’s been more than 30 minutes, leave the room and do something boring until you’re nodding off.
Get a sleep routine too. Try to retire and get up at the same time every morning and night so as to get your “body clock” tuned well. Stick religiously to this internal schedule—even on weekends and no matter how hard it is. Avoid daytime naps at all costs too. If you must nap, keep it short—less than an hour.
Change Your Environment
Unless you sleep in a vacuum, it’s pretty obvious that your environment has a part to play in your sleep. Always make sure the temperature in your room is comfortable—it should neither be too hot or too cold.
When you go to the bathroom, don’t switch on bright lights. This signals your mind to be awake. Instead, use a dim night light that’s just bright enough to let you see where you’re going.
Try not to feel apprehensive about sleeping in anticipation of insomnia—it’ll make things worse. Relax by listening to soothing music or sprinkle your sheets with lavender. The cool, sweet scent of it might have you asleep in seconds.
If you live in a noisy neighborhood, use a white noise tape or buy ear plugs to keep out noise. Sleep in complete darkness and use an eye mask to block out sudden light.
General Do’s And Don’ts
Never turn the clock towards you if you can’t sleep. It’ll drive you crazy. Turn it to face the wall where you can’t see it. Also, stop running the day’s events over and over in your mind. Clear your mind of all thoughts and get in a restful state of mind. If it helps, take a cool shower (not a warm one) before hitting the sack.
Insomnia is distressing, but you can do something about it. After all, sleep is one reward we all deserve after a hard day’s work.
Insomnia is also linked to these sleep disorders:
Sleep Apnea—breath stoppages while sleeping that can last for about 10 seconds to one minute.
Narcolepsy—the urge to sleep no matter how much one has slept.
Nocturnal Myoclonus—violent leg twitching every 20 to 40 seconds that can last from minutes to hours.
Restless Legs Syndrome—uncomfortable sensations that are felt inside the legs and other parts of the body.
Nightmares and Night Terrors—frightening dreams and sensations.
Consequences of Insomnia
- Daytime fatigue
- Decreased concentration
- Impaired mood
- Higher risk for injury and illness
- Falling asleep during driving
- Psychological distress