Each night thousands of men and women turn off the lights, get into bed and wait for the sweet relief of sleep that doesn’t come. Thirty percent of adults in the U.S. have symptoms of insomnia—it’s more common in women, and occurs more frequently with age.
“We need the restorative power of sleep,” says Sleep Neurologist Rachel Salas, MD, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “It’s during deep sleep when our brains imprint information—review and remember what occurred during the day. Without it, we may suffer lack of concentration and decrease in quality of life.”
There are several different forms of insomnia, Salas explains. “Some people have difficulty falling asleep, others can’t stay asleep, and some suffer from early morning awakening. Many of us will occasionally have a bout of short-term insomnia. But when it becomes chronic, you should visit your primary care provider.”
Your physician will first rule out an illness that may be causing insomnia, Salas says. “There are a number of chronic diseases that can result in insomnia and your doctor should screen for these and other more serious sleep disorders before treating the insomnia.”
More often than not, treatment won’t include medication, Salas adds. “I rarely need to prescribe medications because many times insomnia will improve with behavioral modifications. People build up a tolerance for drugs—they simply stop working. Over–the-counter medications and herbal remedies aren’t approved for use for insomnia, may cause serious interactions with other medications and, ironically, may cause sleeplessness.”
The best way to resolve the problem is by changing your sleep hygiene. “That’s our bedtime ritual,” Salas explains. “When we were kids, we most likely had a bedtime routine of washing our faces, brushing our teeth, putting on our PJs, then going to our bedrooms to go to sleep.”
“Today, many of us sleep in the ‘sweats’ we put on after work, watch television or use computers from bed and then try to fall asleep. Our brains are conditioned to recognize our bedrooms as a place for activity, not sleep.” In fact, Salas says, the blue light from computer screens and TVs may suppress melatonin, a chemical that we need in order to fall asleep, in our brains.
So how can we retrain our brains to get a good night’s sleep?
- Rule number one, says Salas, is the “3 S’s.” The bedroom is just for sleeping, sex or when you are sick. Rid your bedroom of all electronic devices.
- Avoid exercise, heavy meals, smoking and caffeine before bed.
- Set a regular sleep and awakening time.
- Don’t be a clock-watcher—turn the clock around so you can’t see it from your bed.
- Create a cave-like environment in the bedroom, with low light and cooler temperatures.
- If you find yourself worrying about things as you try to fall asleep, start a “worry journal.” Write your troubles down earlier in the day and keep the journal in another room. If you start worrying, tell yourself you already wrote about these things, and there is nothing you can do about them now
- Or keep a “happy journal” to list everything for which you are grateful so you go to sleep with happy thoughts rather than stressors.
- If you can’t fall asleep, leave the bedroom and go into another room. Read something soothing in low light and when you begin to feel drowsy, go back into your bedroom and try again.
- If changes in routine don’t do the trick, cognitive behavioral therapy by a sleep specialist can help you determine causes and resolve the insomnia.
Lastly, says Salas, “It’s a myth that we need less sleep as we age. All of us need between seven and a half to eight hours of sleep to be at our best during the day.”
For more information about insomnia and other sleep disorders, visit www.sleepeducation.com.
Brought to you by Genesis HealthCare. Contact Genesis at www.genesishcc.com or 866-745-CARE