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Difficulty Sleeping

Sep 10, 2021

Ever since I was a young adult, I have had periods of insomnia. In 1994, I did not sleep more than an hour a night for almost four weeks. It was a miserable month for me and for everyone in my life.

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that impacts our ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. A person with insomnia will usually have one of more of the following:

  • Difficulty falling asleep.
  • Waking up during the night and difficulty going back to sleep.
  • Waking up too early in the morning.
  • Not feeling rested in the morning.

How well and how much we sleep has great influence on the quality of our life. The amount of sleep needed varies from person to person but on average adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. As we age our sleep patterns change. Although sleep patterns change, the amount of sleep we need does not decrease.

If you have trouble sleeping, it is important to identify the underlying cause(s). Many sleep problems are caused by treatable issues. Common causes of insomnia and sleep disturbances include:

  • Poor sleep habits and sleep environment – Having a regular sleeping routine can help improve sleep.
  • Pain or medical conditions – If you are in pain, it can keep you from the deep sleep you need. Some health issues that may interfere with your sleep include arthritis, asthma, diabetes, menopause, osteoporosis, nighttime heartburn, and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Medications and alcohol – Medications and their side effects can impair sleep. Consuming alcohol may seem like it helps increase sleepiness, but it can disrupt your sleep pattern.
  • Lack of exercise – if you are sedentary, it may cause you to not feel sleepy or cause excessive sleepiness. Regular exercise during the day can improve your sleeping habits.
  • Psychological stress or psychological disorders – life changes such as death of a loved one, moving from the family home, or having been hospitalized can cause stress and anxiety which can impair your sleep.
  • Sleep disorders – snoring and sleep apnea occur more frequently as we age.

Good sleep habits can help you get a good night’s sleep and beat insomnia. Some of these habits include:

  • Try to go to sleep at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning.
  • Avoid prolonged use of phones, tablets, or electronic reading devices that give off light before bed. If you like to read before sleeping, a good old fashioned book may help you achieve a better night’s sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol late in the day.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal late in the evening. A light snack before bedtime; however, may help you sleep.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable. Be sure that it is dark, quiet, and not too warm or too cold.
  • Follow a routine to help you relax before sleep. Read a book, listen to music, or take a bath.
  • If you can’t fall asleep and don’t feel drowsy, get up and read or do something that is not overly stimulating until you feel sleepy.
  • If you find yourself lying awake worrying about things, get up and make a to-do list. This can sometimes help alleviate worries.

Keeping a sleep journal can help determine where there might be problems. A sleep journal should include when you sleep and whether you wake feeling rested. Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, medications, exercise, lifestyle changes, and recent stressors should also be noted.

If you are unable to resolve your sleep problems by yourself, your doctor may be able to help. Sharing your sleep journal with your doctor will help them better discover what is keeping you awake at night.