About Insomnia: Will You Sleep Again?
Insomnia is a disorder characterized by difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep. Approximately 50% of adults experience intermittent insomnia, and one in ten complain of chronic insomnia. Insomnia is approximately twice as common in women as in men, and is more common in older than younger people. There are many causes of insomnia. These include significant life stress (job loss or change, death of a loved one), medical illness, medications, pain or discomfort at night, depression, environmental factors such as noise, light, or extreme temperatures, and things that interfere with a normal sleep schedule including jet lag and shift work.
View the Insomnia Fact Sheet
Because sleep is very sensitive to psychological stress and physical ailments, nearly all people at some time in their lives experience sleepless nights. Usually sleep patterns return to normal over time. However, in some cases, insomnia may persist and become chronic. Such individuals often develop maladaptive thoughts and behaviors which maintain their insomnia. For example, they may spend too much time in bed, try too hard to sleep, worry too much about the effects of missing sleep, or turn to remedies such as alcohol or over-the-counter sleep aids. In essence, these people become desperate to sleep which only serves to worsen the problem and they develop performance anxiety with regard to sleep. Since sleep is a natural process that can not be forced, the harder one tries to "make sleep happen" the more sleep becomes elusive and the worse the insomnia becomes.
Psychophysiological insomnia is the most common form of insomnia. This is a disorder of learned, sleep-preventing associations, such as not being able to sleep because either your body or your mind is not relaxed. People with psychophysiological insomnia usually have excessive, daily worries about not being able to fall or stay asleep and make intense efforts to fall asleep that are accompanied by marked apprehensions that their efforts will be unsuccessful. They are usually unable to fall asleep when desired and may fall asleep when trying to stay awake but not being physically active, such as when watching TV or reading.
Stress is the most common cause of psychophysiological insomnia. While it is common to have sleep disturbances when someone is going through stress, some people continue to have sleep disturbances long after the stress has abated. Sometimes the stress and sleep disturbances worsen one another, creating a vicious cycle. Many people with this condition are concerned that they will never have a good night of sleep again. The fact is that sleep will improve; however, treating this form of insomnia requires that you make some changes in the way you think and worry about sleep. It also requires some changes in your behavior.
Tips for a better night's sleep…
- Think positive. Avoid going to bed with a negative mind set, such as "If I don't sleep for 8 hours, I will feel terrible tomorrow."
- If you find yourself lying awake worrying in bed, try to clear your mind by making a to-do list before you go to bed.
- Establish a routine for bedtime and wake up at the same time each morning, including days off.
- Relax before going to bed by reading a book, listening to music or taking a bath.
- Create a positive sleep environment by making sure that your bedroom is comfortable, quiet and dark.
- Stop clock watching. Turn the clock around and only use the alarm.
- Get out of bed and do something else if you can't sleep after 20 minutes.
- Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep and sex.
- Avoid naps during the daytime.
- Avoid stimulants (coffee, teas and colas) for at least 4 hours before bedtime and heavy meals late in the day.
- Avoid alcohol and smoking.
- Exercise regularly, but not within 4 hours of bedtime.
If these simple strategies are not effective, consult your physician. You may benefit from a consultation with a psychologist with expertise in treating psychophysiological insomnia who can teach you some powerful techniques including cognitive-behavioral therapy, biofeedback, sleep restriction therapy and relaxation-based treatments to improve your sleep. While these techniques require some effort and take time to work, they do provide a means of coping with insomnia that help people return to more normal sleep patterns.
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