Sleepy days and wasted nights
Try these tips if you're battling insomnia
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine defines insomnia as a recurring difficulty with falling asleep and staying asleep as well as a poor quality sleep in spite of having the recommended seven to eight hours, resulting in some form of daytime sleepiness.
Insomnia occurs more often in women and older adults.
More than 20 million Americans have chronic insomnia, poor sleep most nights for more than six months.
SLEEP TIPS FROM A to Z-z-z-z-z-z
Avoid caffeine past noon and don't have more than two caffeinated beverages a day.
Stop smoking. Nicotine interferes with sleep and some smokers may be prone to wake up during the night.
Stay away from nightcaps. Alcohol may help you sleep at first but can disrupt your sleep later on. Don't drink alcohol four to six hours before bedtime.
Eat a light snack and have a glass of milk before bed to promote sleep. Don't eat a full meal before bed.
If you can't fall asleep, get out of bed and do low-key activities such as reading.
Use your bed for sleep. Don't spend time watching television or doing work in bed.
During your wind-down period, dim lighting and minimize noise and avoid extreme temperatures.
Try to avoid daytime napping. If you're too sleepy to function, limit naps to less than one hour.
Getting a good night's sleep can be easier said than done. Some people fall asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow. For others, nights are filled with tossing and turning until the sun comes up.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, more than 100 million Americans fail to get a full night's rest. Sleep deprivation can be due to many factors, one of the most common being insomnia.
If you've ever had difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or if you've ever longed for reinstated nap times at work, then you might have had some experience with insomnia.
"Everybody at some point has trouble falling asleep," said Suzanne Rathbun, director of the counseling center at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. "Some just get it because there's something going on in their life. Everybody's lifestyle — whether you're going to college, have a stressful job or you're a new mother — is going to affect you in some stressful way," she said.
General insomnia includes difficulty going to sleep as well as waking up late at night or waking up too early to get a full night's rest. Drug or alcohol consumption and mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety, can also factor into poor sleep.
"There are a million things that can cause it," Rathbun said. "I have students that tell me, 'I couldn't sleep.' But when you talk to them, they're worried about class, their boyfriend, money — they have so much going on that they have trouble shutting down."
For Lou Morris, pain was the cause of her insomnia. Morris is a 70-year-old former nurse who has had difficulty sleeping due to fibromyalgia, a condition that causes pain in muscles, ligaments and tendons.
"When you go to bed, it's hard to find a comfortable spot to sleep, and it's hard to go back to sleep," Morris said.
The next day, she would feel tired or groggy.
"I needed to sleep," Morris said. "I felt like I was in never-never land, and I couldn't think clearly. I didn't feel like doing anything because I wasn't well rested."
Morris added that she's tried most home remedies, including a glass of warm milk and a hot shower before bed. But she only got relief when she began taking Ambien to help her through the night.
"I tried everything they said, but I just decided I needed a bit of chemical help," Morris said. She said she takes precautions with the medicine, cutting her low dosage in half and not taking a pill every night. Morris still wakes up some nights but not as often as before.
In any case, taking sleeping pills are not the first resort for sleep problems, Dr. Amaranath Ghanta of the Permian Sleep Center said.
Instead, following a consistent routine before bedtime is the simplest — yet most difficult — way to solve sleep problems.
"You need to do certain things to get a good night's sleep," Ghanta said. "You shouldn't be doing mind-stimulating activities at bedtime. Give yourself that wind-down period at least an hour or two (before bed). They are simple things but difficult to practice.
"We usually recommend people with sleep problems try to avoid stimulants that keep them awake, like caffeine in coffee, tea and soft drinks; in some people, nicotine is a stimulant," he added.
The trick to good sleep hygiene is to stick to the routine, Rathbun said. The AASM suggests avoiding stimulating activity close to bedtime and avoiding daytime napping. And don't use the bed for activities such as watching TV or eating.
Good daytime habits also benefit your sleep.
Ghanta suggests avoiding exercise late in the day, caffeine past noon and, of course, that all important wind down. If you're still waking up in the middle of the night, there might be other reasons.
"If someone wakes up in the middle of the night, they could be sleeping too early, spend too much time in bed or have a medical condition," Ghanta said. "They could be asthmatics. Some people have pain problems in the middle of the night.
"It is treatable, but the patients are the ones who can help themselves by following what the doctor tells them," Ghanta said.