This post is not for the people who purposely deprive themselves of sleep on a regular basis. As a working mother, I understand the necessity and the allure of shaving off an hour or two of sleep here and there. Sometimes sleep feels like a luxury. Sometimes we just want a little time to ourselves and it happens to be at 11 p.m.
And I know someone who thinks she's tougher because she sleeps less, that going to bed before 11 is for "sissies". But this post is not for her or the other sleep-depriving souls.
This post is for all of those individuals who suffer, who long for a good night's sleep and find it eluding them night after night.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is the personal experience of poor sleep accompanied by impairment in daytime function. It is common in people aged older than 55 years. Out of individuals who report chronic insomnia:
- 85% remain untreated.
- 66% report having poor knowledge of available treatment options.
- 20% resort to either untested over-the-counter medications or alcohol in attempts to improve their condition.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation impairs our ability to regulate our emotions and our ability to make rational decisions. Sleep deprivation also affects dream recall. It can impair our immune systems and brain processes such as learning and memory, which in turn effects school or work performance and lead to memory lapses.
Lack of sleep can also cause us to overreact to bad experiences. In a recent study, people who were deprived of sleep for 35 hours were 60 % more reactive to negative emotional stimuli. Our depression, emotional lability, and irritability is bad news for our marriages, friendships, as parents, and at work.
Some studies are also showing that people who do not get enough sleep at night weigh more. The theory is that less than 7 1/2 to 8 hours prevents the appetite hormone from being released, thereby increasing our appetite the next day. Additionally, people may eat more to keep their energy levels up.
Medically speaking, sleep deprivation can lead to higher mortality rates, increased risk of heart disease, and increased risk of stomach problems.
Many psychiatric disorders are linked with abnormal sleep patterns. New research discoveries show that individuals who suffer from both depression and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) often find that use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) relieves both disorders. CPAP is the most common and effective treatment for OSA. CPAP provides a steady stream of pressurized air to patients through a mask that they wear during sleep. This airflow keeps the airway open, preventing the pauses in breathing that characterize sleep apnea and restoring normal oxygen levels.
Reasons for Trouble Sleeping
Perhaps your sleep deprivation is not self-imposed. What are the possible reasons for difficulty sleeping? Some of these may seem obvious to you, but it is always good to review:
- Exercising before bed can keep you awake late into the evening. If you exercise in the evening, try to finish at least four hours before you plan to go to sleep.
- Staying away from a caffeinated beverage in the evening may seem obvious to you, but I have to mention it here because I treated someone once for a sleep disorder, only to find that she was drinking iced tea with her evening meal. Drinks such as coffee (even decaf has small traces of caffeine), some teas, and soda contain caffeine. Anything with chocolate in it contains caffeine as well! Again, finish four to six hours before bed.
- Some people think an alcoholic drink helps them go to sleep or sleep better. Alcohol actually interferes with sleep patterns, preventing you from sinking into a deep, rejuvenating sleep; however, a four to six ounce drink four hours before bed should not cause a problem.
- Nicotine interferes with sleep patterns because it is a stimulant.
- Going to bed too hungry or too full may interfere with a good night’s sleep.
- The client I treated for a sleep disorder many years ago also took daytime naps. If you have to take a nap during the day, make sure it is less than an hour long and ends before 3 p.m.
- Other things that may interfere with a good night’s sleep: feeling emotionally overwhelmed, anxious or stressed; relentless replaying of the day's events; relationship conflicts, a fight before bed, or a fight in the bedroom; heightened emotions; many different kinds of illnesses; traveling; or a change in work hours. As mentioned earlier in the article, sleep apnea seriously interferes with a restful sleep. If you wake in the morning and do not feel rested, or if your partner says you snore, momentarily stop breathing, or snort yourself awake, find out more about sleep apnea or get a referral to a sleep clinic.
Getting Sleep Under Control (and ultimately dream better)
A consistent, stable pattern of sleep is very important, especially if you want to dream and remember your dreams. How can you promote better sleep?
- To begin, develop a "sleep ritual." In other words, give your body cues that it is time to slow down and go to bed. This may be a cup of chamomile tea, reading for 15 minutes, brushing your teeth, and putting on your pajamas.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Regularity makes a big difference and trains the "biological clock" in our brains. To begin, do this even on the week-ends.
- Get regular exercise each day, preferably in the morning. There is good evidence that regular exercise improves restful sleep. This includes stretching and aerobic exercise.
- Get regular exposure to outdoor or bright lights, especially in the late afternoon.
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom comfortable and cool.
- Keep the bedroom quiet when sleeping (turn off the television and/or radio).
- Keep the bedroom dark enough to facilitate sleep.
- Use your bed only for sleep and sex. Try not to do paperwork in bed or write checks to pay the bills. Even reading in bed or watching TV in bed can interfere with sleep.
- In the winter, keep your feet and hands warm. Wear socks to bed.
- Use a relaxation technique just before going to sleep like muscle relaxation, imagery, massage, or a warm bath.
- And finally, if you are still unable to catch your forty winks, see your doctor, seek psychotherapy and/or hypnosis. Sleep disorders are extremely common--and often require skilled evaluation and treatment.
Why therapy is better for insomnia than medication
Psychotherapy that includes hypnosis or cognitive behavioral techniques (CBT) is helpful for insomnia, even more so than medication. A study found a greater improvement in sleep patterns among individuals who received CBT than those who received sleep medication. Even CBT delivered via the Internet showed significant improvements in individuals with chronic insomnia.
JAMA. 2006;295:2851-2858 Source: American Medical Association
American Academy of Sleep Medicine http://www.aasmnet.org/
Oct. 23 issue of the journal Current Biology
Live Science Emotions Run Amok in Sleep-Deprived Brains, by Charles Q. Choi