If you have a hard time falling or staying asleep at night, you are not alone. Some estimates show that 10% to 30% of adults live with chronic insomnia. As many as 95% of Americans report an episode of insomnia at some point during their lives. That’s a whole lot of people asking themselves, “Why can’t I sleep?” Unfortunately, the answer to the age-old question is not an easy one.
Multiple factors can play a role in not getting enough zzz’s, leaving us with complaints of daytime fatigue, lack of energy, irritability, reduced work performance, and difficulty concentrating. If you feel these daytime impairments after having repeated difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, you may be dealing with insomnia.
Factors that keep us awake can be physiological, environmental, or psychological. Some of these common factors include:
- Consuming substances that negatively affect sleep. Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and some medications. Diet pills and cold medicines are often the culprits. If you are unsure if something you are taking is affecting your sleep—ask your provider.
- Physical pain and discomfort can make it harder to fall and remain asleep. Frequent trips to the bathroom, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome are other medical conditions that disrupt sleep. However, your medical provider can treat those conditions.
- Depression, anxiety, and excessive worry can keep our minds from turning off at night. Replaying the day’s events and worrying about possible coming events are shared with people having insomnia related to mental health conditions. Treating underlying mental health issues will often resolve issues with insomnia.
- Unhealthy lifestyles and sleep habits we are unaware of may also hinder a good night’s sleep. These habits can include going to bed at a different time each night or napping during the day. Screen devices like computers, televisions, and cell phones can also cause sleep problems. Too much light, too many blankets, and too much noise are all environmental factors that can disrupt our sleep.
So now what? We know what it feels like not to sleep and what might be causing it, but how do we fix it? It is often our first inclination to want to take a medication or pill that will put us to sleep. However, the most beneficial way to improve restful, restorative sleep is to work on sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene refers to daily activities and habits that are consistent with or promote the maintenance of good quality sleep and full daytime alertness:
- Develop regular sleep habits. This means keeping a regular sleep and wake time, sleeping as much as needed to feel refreshed the following day, but not spending more time in bed than needed.
- Avoid staying in bed in the morning to catch up on sleep.
- Avoid daytime naps. If rest is necessary, keep it short (less than 1 hour) and avoid napping after 3 pm.
- Do not read, write, eat, watch TV, talk on the phone, or play cards in bed.
- Avoid caffeine after lunch; avoid alcohol within 6 hours of bedtime; avoid nicotine before bedtime.
- Avoid sleeping pills, particularly over-the-counter remedies.
- Create a bedtime routine (dim lights, take a bath, listen to soft music, read a book).
- Keep the bedroom dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature.
- Exercise daily (but not later than 6 pm to 7 pm).
- Do not force yourself to sleep. If you cannot fall asleep within 15 to 30 minutes, get up and do something relaxing until sleepy (e.g., read a book in a dimly lit room, watch a non-stimulating TV program). Avoid watching the clock or worrying about the perceived consequences of not getting enough sleep.
Sleep hygiene is not always easy, and you shouldn’t expect to see results quickly. You may have to make new habits and break old ones, which will take time.
If you have questions about treating insomnia, start working on your sleep hygiene and make an appointment to see one of our providers at Canyon View Medical Group.
Kathryn Morrill, FNP
Canyon View Medical Group