If you suffer from insomnia or you have to do shift work, then you will know all about a bad night’s sleep. If you have a newborn baby, the situation may be even worse. Join the club of 50-70 million Americans and 5 million in the UK who cannot get a decent night’s sleep. 20% of these are getting less than 6 hours sleep a night.
There are various causes such as too much Internet, email, stress, alcohol, and a host of other problems which are all stopping us from getting our share of sleep which is vital to proper functioning.
Most medical experts say that those who suffer from sleep problems are prone to more depression, anxiety and poorer health overall. Add in diabetes, obesity and heart problems and you will begin to see why this is a very worrying trend. The CDC estimates that this is a pubic health epidemic. Here are 6 things that only people with sleep problems will understand and also 4 ways to alleviate the problem.
1. You know that tomorrow is going to be hell.
As you lie there tossing and turning and having tried everything from hot milk to sleep aids which become less and less effective, you wonder, why me? Then you start worrying again about how bad all this is for you and that tomorrow will be all the more difficult and stressful. You just know that you are going to get exhausted more quickly and that you will have problems in concentrating at work or in studying. You will be in a bad mood as well.
2. You love your baby but…..
If you are a new parent, the constant interruptions from the crying newborn have a detrimental effect and may be worse than getting no sleep at all. This interrupted sleep is about the same as getting 4 hours sleep and you just cannot function on that. Many parents often feel anger towards their newborn child building up and this makes them feel guilty which, in turn, disturbs their sleep when they do manage to fall into a fitful slumber.
3. You do not get much sympathy.
Everybody has their own remedy. They will recommend homeopathic treatments, yoga, melatonin and a host of other remedies which will vary from grandmother’s recipes to New Age discoveries. None of them work for you and people just shrug their shoulders and more or less tell you to get on with it! There is very little support and even doctors do not give this medical disorder the attention it deserves.
4. You are not so sure about sleep aids.
How can you sort out the facts from the hysteria about sleep aids? You do all the research in your waking hours and you get all the scary stories about the health risks. Then you do more research and Big Pharma reassures you that disastrous side effects are few and far between. Yet, as you count the 456th sheep, you cannot dismiss the stories of the death of Heath Ledger who took an overdose of prescription meds which included sleep aids, of course.
5. You are more accident prone.
You are also keenly aware that lack of sleep causes accidents. You reflect bitterly that the some of the biggest accidents in history were caused by sleep deficits. The big ones such as Chernobyl, the accident at Three Mile Island and the Exxon oil spill all were connected with a lack of sleep. On a more mundane level, you worry that while driving tomorrow, you may become just another statistic in the annual 100,000 road accidents.
6. You may be causing irreversible brain damage.
Now I know that the latest experiments were done on mice but experts are alarmed that the same process may be happening in humans. Researchers at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that a lack of sleep in mice causes irreversible damage in certain brain cells. These cells are the locus ceruleus (LC) neurons which wakefulness seems to destroy and there is no chance that they will be reborn or replaced. Another study at the University of Surrey (UK) suggests that sleep is needed to clear your brain of all the toxins which have been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s.
4 Ways To Alleviate The Problem.
There are lots of sites which will tell you how many hours of sleep you should be getting. I would advise you to treat this advice with some caution because the number of hours is only a vague indicator. What counts is the quality of the sleep you are getting. If it is a deep and restful sleep, the number of hours will be mostly irrelevant. Here are 4 ways to help you sort out the problem. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all so you may have to experiment with what works best for you.
1. Examine your lifestyle.
There is usually a compelling reason why you cannot sleep. It could be related to stress and worry. You need to look at these factors carefully. Regular bedtimes help as does a special routine which helps you wind down towards blissful sleep. Maybe you are exposed to too much artificial light just before bedtime. That may mean changing your routine a bit.
2. Change your sleeping accommodation if necessary.
As regards the bedroom, you should try and improve it as far as possible. Is it noisy and if so, could you move to another room? There may be problems with the temperature- a fairly cool one of around 18° is ideal and it should be in total darkness. Try black out curtains or a face mask if there are no real blinds on the window. The idea is to get as much sunlight during the day and as much darkness towards evening so that the melatonin substance which induces sleep can kick into action. That melatonin is vital and I can tell you that smartphones, TV and computers all interfere with its release. If you take your smartphone to bed, you are asking for trouble!
3. Look for natural sleep aids.
Prescription sleep aids may work for a time but there is no magic cure. It may be time to look at natural alternatives. There may be something that can work for you. I take Valerian or melatonin tablets and they have usually worked. These do not work for everyone. You can try taking some warm milk before bed and/or a banana snack. Magnesium can help the brain to relax and can be found in green leafy vegetables or just by taking a magnesium supplement. Taking a hot bath with lavender oil can also help to relax and calm some insomniacs.
4. Nap wisely.
Although naps are encouraged in some workplaces to renew energy, insomniacs are advised to avoid regular napping. Experts say that when you nap for more than 30 minutes, you tend to fall into a deep sleep and when you wake up, you may feel groggy and very unproductive so it seems to have the opposite effect. Naps can be useful though when you limit them to less than 20 minutes and provided you do not take them late in the afternoon or evening or falling asleep in front of the TV near your bedtime. If you avoid these traps, you can help to keep to your regular bedtime schedule and avoid upsetting your wake sleep cycle which is essential for restful sleep.
What helps you to get off to sleep? Let us know in the comments how you deal with insomnia.
Featured photo credit: Insomnia persists/ Quinn Dombrowski via flickr.com