By Dr. Luke Sugden, St. Luke’s Resident Physician
Insomnia, or difficulty sleeping, is one of the most common medical complaints that patients have for their primary doctors. Many things can cause difficulty with sleeping including acute stress, substance use, medications, poor sleep habits, or a change in sleep environment—just to name a few! There are basically two typess of insomnia: difficulty with sleep initiation or difficulties with sleep maintenance.
Problems with sleep initiation (hard time falling asleep) means that it takes you longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep. If you have trouble with sleep maintenance, then you wake up a lot at night, or once you do wake up, it’s hard for you to fall back asleep. You may have one of these or a combination of the two. They can really affect a person’s quality of life!
In order for you to have a diagnosis of insomnia, you must have one or both of the difficulties listed above, have adequate sleep opportunity, and have an associated daytime dysfunction, suffering from one or more of the following: fatigue, poor attention or concentration, irritability, daytime sleepiness, decreased energy or motivation, increased errors or accidents, or ongoing worry about getting adequate sleep.
The good news is that there are many things you can do that can help in big ways!
The best, and easiest things to do are what we call “good sleep hygiene.” This means doing all of the things you can do to set yourself up for the best chance of a good night’s sleep.
Regular exercise helps your body to feel tired at the end of the day and will set the stage for restful sleep.
Do not watch television or have stimulation from other bright devices such as computers or cellphones. This light stimulates the brain to maintain a wakeful state.
Do something calm before bed such as reading a book, or other relaxing activities such as yoga or meditation.
Your bed should only be used for sleeping. You should not watch TV, study, or otherwise use your bed for non-sleeping activities as this can make it more difficult to sleep when you want to.
Stop drinking any caffeine by noon, and certainly none after 3 p.m.
Make sure that you are going to bed and waking up around the same time each day in order to keep your schedule consistent.
Drinking alcohol before bed may make you feel tired, and help you fall asleep; however, it tends to make your sleep less restful and has a tendency to cause you to wake up several hours later and have trouble falling back asleep.
Following these recommendations is a great first step and will help with a majority of patients suffering from insomnia. If you are on medications that you feel may be contributing, contact your doctor to discuss them and possible alternatives. If you have tried these recommendations and are still having difficulties, consult your doctor. Sometimes there are other medical problems that occur with insomnia, such as sleep apnea. We hope these tips and tricks have been helpful. Happy sleeping!
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