Monday, August 9, 2010
Still Can't Sleep?
Insomnia. We've all had the occasional night or two when no matter what we try, we simply cannot fall sleep. Usually those sporadic nights have an identifiable stressor- a test, a job interview, or a change in time zones. For theses occasional situations, I have no problem with my patients taking a sleep aid (prescription or over-the-counter.)
Chronic insomnia, however, is a whole different ball game. Every night becomes a challenge and by 2:00am you're beginning to panic about how you'll be able to function in the morning. Patterns emerge of heavy caffeine intake in the morning to "get going", then an afternoon "pick me up" coffee or soda, followed by a glass or two of alcohol to "relax and wind down" from the day. Most people know caffeine is a stimulant, but did you know even morning coffee can impair your quality of evening sleep? Alcohol, though a sedative, may help people relax and fall asleep, but realize that it,too, disturbs the quality of sleep. So how can you break this pattern? Here are a few ideas that might help.
1. Start your day with exercise. Even a quick fifteen minutes of brisk walking will release adrenaline and help decrease your need for caffeine. Did you know exercising 30 minutes daily yields the same amount of mood enhancement as a low dose of an antidepressant? (Don't exercise just before bed, though, because as noted above, that adrenaline release will keep you up!)
2. Create a bedtime routine. If you have children, you know how important this is, and it works for adults as well. Take a warm bath or shower, appeal to your senses with relaxing aromatic bath soaps or gels, and then GO TO BED. Do not pass GO and collect $200. This means no stopping to unload the dishwasher, fold clothes, check email or watch television. If you want to read or watch t.v., do it before your shower. Get in bed, close your eyes, and consider some form of relaxing breathing or meditation.
3. Cover your alarm clock. Check it three times before you cover it if you need to, but if it's covered, you'll break that habit of waking up at exactly 2:17am each night. Yes, you might still wake up, but if you're not seeing the clock, it's easier for your brain to go back to sleep because you're not gearing up all the emotions that come with seeing that dreaded early morning time.
4. Consider an underlying medical issue.Medical causes of chronic insomnia include an underlying issues such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, thyroid disease, anemia or depression. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss it!
BOTTOM LINE: For the occasional sleepless night, go ahead and use a sleep medicine if you'd like, but if you're taking a sedative every night and stimulants every morning, recognize the habits that are aggravating the problem and make some healthy changes!