Everyone has experienced tossing and turning at night or having unwanted broken sleep! We sometimes go through periods where we just can’t get to sleep or have trouble staying asleep and it is really frustrating, especially in our society where our lifestyle is packed with so many activities and we feel the pressure to be alert and clear minded for the next day.
What are some of the contributors to insomnia or sleepless nights?
• Lifestyle – I believe that this is becoming a major contributor to sleep issues because we just try to do too much!!! Does this sound familiar? Whether it’s working and taking care of kids or trying to balance a busy social life as well as maintaining work or study commitments. We just don’t slow down enough for our bodies and our mind to wind down.
• Internet/Social Networking – Do you use a lot of your free time at night on the internet instead of resting? This form of time out from our busy day is actually stimulating our brains and not helping us to wind down. You may have experienced this when you decided to check your emails before bedtime and found yourself responding to it for the next ½ hour or so only to find that you then couldn’t fall asleep!
• Irregular Sleep routines – This is when you go to bed at different times and your body is not able to get into a routine which enables you to wind down mentally and physically.
• Stress – this is a major contributor to sleeplessness and can lead to secondary issues such as Anxiety or Depression which can then add another layer to sleep issues.
• Illness – Sometimes we may go through periods of insomnia which are related either directly or indirectly to health issues. When this occurs it is important to seek medical advice.
• Poor Sleep Hygiene – These are the habits that we adopt that unknowingly may lead or contribute to sleepless nights. When we are not stressed these habits may have minimal effects on our ability to sleep but when we experience times of stress these habits do more harm and may exacerbate any sleep issues.
What can you do to maintain a healthy sleep routine and enhance your ability to get sleep?
• Try to create a routine each night which includes at least one hour of wind down time before you plan to go to bed. For example wind down time can include watching TV, listening to relaxing music, reading a book, having a bath and so on.
• Try to go to bed roughly at the same time daily and go to bed when you feel tired. Listen to your body! Likewise try to wake up at roughly the same time.
• Don’t watch TV or browse the net in your bedroom. It is important to create a different environment for activities and for sleeping. In other words your bedroom should be your sleep sanctuary and it is important to not confuse your mind into thinking it is also a place of mental activity.
• If you go to bed and cannot sleep within 30 minutes it is important to get out of bed and go into another room (with dim lights!) and do some light activity such as reading which may induce sleepiness as well as take your mind away from ruminating thoughts about your day or stressing about the fact that you haven’t fallen asleep yet! Of course go back to bed when you feel tired again. Keep doing this until you fall asleep.
• Try not to eat too much before bedtime. It is hard to fall asleep when our bodies are trying to digest food.
• Try not to use alcohol as a sleep aid. Even though it initially may contribute to feelings of drowsiness it actually has proven to create a more disruptive sleep especially during the latter part of your sleep cycle.
• Anxiety and stressful thoughts need to be dealt with and if possible during the day. Set aside some time in the day to problem solve and if you feel that you need extra help it is important to work through issues with a friend/family or with a professional.
• Try not to nap during the day as this can interrupt your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep at night.
• Do not count how many hours you have slept. This can cause you to have unnecessary stress about sleep which in turn can make you feel too anxious to fall asleep again. Everyone is unique and needs a different amount of hours to feel good during the day.
• Make sure you eat healthy (cut down on caffeine if needed especially if you are anxious or stressed), get regular exercise (this can help your body to feel more tired and rested at night which are prerequisites to drifting into sleep more easily) and get a daily dose of sunshine. This is important because it helps our bodies to differentiate between day and night and can help produce hormones that induce sleep. For example melatonin which is a sleep promoting hormone gets produced when it is dark (so no bright lights from your computer at night!).
Remember a few sleepless nights on occasion happens to all of us so try not to stress about this. It is important to create good sleep habits for general health but if you feel that this is not occurring and would like additional help a Psychologist may be able to work through some issues with you. This may involve teaching you about how to challenge unhelpful thinking patterns, learning to manage stress better, and learning some relaxation skills. These are all valuable lifestyle skills.
Registered Psychologist, Alpha Psychology
The Insomnia Workbook by Stephanie A. Silberman.
Treating Insomnia: What Health Professionals Need to Know, Australasian Sleep Association handout.