Dr Tendai Zuze Health Matters
How much sleep is enough varies from person to person. Generally, seven to eight hours a day is enough. Failure to sleep is called insomnia. Someone with insomnia will often take 30 minutes or more to fall asleep and may get only six or fewer hours of sleep for three or more nights a week.
Common causes of insomnia include:
Stress. Concerns about work, school, health or family can keep your mind active at night, making it difficult to sleep. Stressful life events, such as the death or illness of a loved one, divorce or a job loss, may lead to insomnia
Anxiety. Everyday anxieties as well as more-serious anxiety disorders may disrupt your asleep. Depression. You might either sleep too much or have trouble sleeping if you’re depressed. Insomnia often accompanies other mental health disorders as well. Medications. Many prescription drugs can interfere with sleep, including some antidepressants, heart and blood pressure medications, allergy medications, stimulants and corticosteroids.
Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Coffee, tea, and other caffeine-containing drinks are well-known stimulants. Drinking coffee in the late afternoon and later can keep you from falling asleep at night. Nicotine in tobacco products is another stimulant that can cause insomnia. Alcohol is a sedative that may help you fall asleep, but it prevents deeper stages of sleep and often causes you to awaken in the middle of the night.
Medical conditions. If you have chronic pain, breathing difficulties or a need to urinate frequently, you might develop insomnia. Conditions linked with insomnia include arthritis, cancer, heart failure, lung disease, overactive thyroid and stroke. Change in your environment or work schedule. Travel or working a late or early shift can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythms, making it difficult to sleep.
Poor sleep habits. Habits that help promote good sleep are called sleep hygiene. Poor sleep hygiene includes an irregular sleep schedule, stimulating activities before bed, an uncomfortable sleep environment and use of your bed for activities other than sleep or sex.
‘Learned’ insomnia. This may occur when you worry excessively about not being able to sleep well and try too hard to fall asleep. Most people with this condition sleep better when they’re away from their usual sleep environment or when they don’t try to sleep, such as when they’re watching TV or reading.
Eating too much late in the evening. Having a light snack before bedtime is OK, but eating too much may cause you to feel physically uncomfortable while lying down, making it difficult to get to sleep. Many people also experience heartburn after heavy meals which can make sleeping difficult.
Sleep problems may be a concern for children and teenagers as well. Some children and teenagers simply have trouble getting to sleep or resist a regular bedtime because their internal clocks are more delayed. This can cause problems at school as they then tend to fall asleep in class. Sleep is as important to your health as a healthy diet and regular exercise. Whatever your reason for sleep loss, insomnia can affect you both mentally and physically.
The following strategies may help you sleep better: Stick to a sleep schedule. Keep your bedtime and wake time consistent from day to day, including on weekends. Get out of bed when you’re not sleeping. Sleep as much as needed to feel rested, and then get out of bed. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed after 20 minutes and do something relaxing, such as reading.
Avoid trying to sleep. The harder you try, the more awake you’ll become. Read or watch television in another room until you become sleepy, then go to bed to sleep. Use your bed and bedroom only for sleeping or sex. Don’t read, watch TV, work or eat in bed. Find ways to relax. A warm bath before bedtime can help prepare you for sleep. Having your partner give you a massage also may help relax you.
Create a relaxing bedtime ritual, such as reading, soft music, breathing exercises, yoga or prayer. Avoid or limit naps. Naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night. If you can’t get by without one, try to limit a nap to no more than 30 minutes and don’t nap after 3 p.m.
Make your bedroom comfortable for sleep. Close your bedroom door or create a subtle background noise, such as a running fan, to help drown out other noises. Keep your bedroom temperature comfortable, usually cooler than during the day, and dark. Don’t keep a computer or TV in your bedroom.
Exercise and stay active. Get at least 20 to 30 minutes of vigorous exercise daily at least five to six hours before bedtime. Avoid or limit caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Caffeine after lunchtime and using nicotine can keep you from falling asleep at night.
Alcohol, while it may initially make you feel sleepy, can cause unrestful sleep and frequent awakenings. Avoid large meals and beverages before bed. A light snack is fine, but eating too much late in the evening can interfere with sleep.
Drink less before bedtime so that you won’t have to urinate as often. Check your medications. If you take medications regularly, check with your doctor to see if they may be contributing to your insomnia. Hide the bedroom clocks. Set your alarm so that you know when to get up, but then hide all clocks in your bedroom, including your wristwatch and cell phone. The less you know what time it is at night, the better you’ll sleep.
If you are still struggling to sleep despite these measures please visit your doctor.