Feeling rested after a blissful night’s sleep is a wonderful thing. Going to sleep and waking up rested should be a simple matter, but for many Americans sleep is elusive. Insomnia, a type of sleep disorder, is a pathological condition effecting nearly 30 percent of the total population. According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, 3rd ed., insomnia has specific criteria that includes: 1) difficulty falling asleep, 2) difficulty staying asleep or early awakening despite the opportunity to sleep and 3) symptoms of impaired daytime functioning that occurs at least three times per week for at least a month. Such conditions warrant seeking help from your healthcare provider.
Women are at the highest risk for sleep disorders. As a nurse practitioner, I must consider psychiatric and other medical problems, medications and substance abuse issues when promoting quality sleep.
Why is sleep so important? Aside from the most obvious reasons – avoiding the “grumpies,” lack of motivation, or struggling to think clearly – chronic sleep disturbances can cause anxiety disorders, depression and motor vehicle crashes. Newer research shows a link between chronic sleep problems and serious illnesses such as hypertension, heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.
Here are a few truths that often surprise those seeking help for poor sleep:
Humans do not generally feel well the first 30 to 45 minutes after waking.
Scientist are not sure, but believe this may be related to a sudden rise in cortisol levels, a natural producing hormone that peaks approximately 30 minutes after waking. It is important that you do not judge how your whole day will go based upon how you feel when you first wake up.
That 3 p.m. cup of coffee to help get you through the afternoons still in your system at 3 a.m.
Caffeine has a “half-life” of about six hours, which means every six hours, half of the drug is metabolized.
Let’s break it down.
The 3 p.m. cup of coffee has 100mg of caffeine, six hours later at 9 p.m., 50mg of caffeine is still in your system, and at 3 a.m., 25mg is still in your system. Set a curfew for when you will have your last cup of coffee, energy drink or soda as a way to promote better sleep.
Bedtime rituals make for better sleep.
The human body cannot turn off like your bedside lamp. Having a routine of at least ten minutes seems to help. For adults, adding a period of relaxation also helps such as reading, mediating or a warm bath. If you work right up to bedtime you will work during sleep. Consistent bedtimes and wake times, even on the weekends, help our circadian rhythm and sleep wake cycles.
Fatigue brings on more fatigue.
Exercise will break this cycle and actually give you more energy during the day and better sleep at night. Eliminate using fatigue as an excuse not to exercise.
Alcohol may help you fall asleep but it triggerman arousal as it is metabolized.
Alcohol causes an increase in hot flashes, as well as nightmares. Never mix with sleeping pills because there is an additive effect that can stop you from breathing.
Implementing these strategies may be helpful, but if you have a sleep problem I encourage you seek help from your healthcare provider.