Why so Many of Us Have Problems Sleeping and What to Do about It
It’s happening again. You stare at the shadows that loom on your bedroom ceiling. You turn on your side and stare at the dark wall. The drumbeat of your heart grows louder. You pummel your pillow into a new shape, faintly hoping that will help. What time is it now? It’s been a while since you went to bed, but you’re afraid to look at the clock because it might say you only have a few hours before the alarm goes off.
Like 100 million Americans, you have insomnia.
In today’s high-pressure society, more and more people have trouble sleeping. And, while it’s completely normal to have the occasional bad night, frequent bouts of insomnia plague nearly 60 percent of American households.
Most sleep experts define insomnia as an inability to sleep promptly and soundly a few times a week. A common misconception is that insomnia means an inability to sleep at all. In fact, most cases of insomnia are mild. They result in a lack of sleep or multiple wakening during the night. Experts contend that insomnia results in over $94 billion dollars a year in productivity losses.
Causes of Insomnia
Many people assume that stress is simply the cause of sleeplessness. This is not always true. The root causes of insomnia generally fall into three categories: lifestyle, environment and health.
Lifestyle: The two chief causes of insomnia relate to stress and diet. Family worries, career decisions and scenarios like moving, divorce or financial hardship contribute to loss of sleep. Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can also cause insomnia (a myth is that alcohol induces sleep, but it also causes frequent waking).
Environment: You may be surprised at how poor an environment many households have when it comes to sleep. For example, television is a visual stimulant that can greatly hinder sleep. Bright lighting, extreme temperatures—basically anything that makes you uncomfortable—can cause sleeplessness.
Health: There is a long list of health conditions that can cause pain or discomfort, resulting in insomnia. In addition, psychiatric conditions, such as depression or severe anxiety, contribute to sleeplessness. Lastly, many drugs can mimic caffeine as a side effect.
What to Do About It
In many cases, sleeplessness will simply fix itself. It’s only obsessive worry over loss of sleep that often leads to insomnia. For example, one bad night often leads to excessive anxiety over sleep loss during subsequent nights. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Use common sense. Make diet and lifestyle choices that contribute to a restful night’s sleep. Here are just a few tips:
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol, especially within 4-5 hours of bedtime.
- Exercise regularly, but avoid intense exercise within 4-5 hours of bedtime.
- Don’t watch television in the bedroom.
- Create a peaceful and comfortable environment in your bedroom.
- Listen to music or read before bed—anything that relaxes you.
If medical conditions or drug side effects are causing sleeplessness, consult your doctor about alternative therapies. If you’re insomnia is caused by intense anxiety or depression, seek medical attention immediately.
The important thing to remember is that insomnia can be avoided, most times by taking a few simple steps. And, if you have that occasional bad night, don’t worry. As long as you let your body do its thing, you’ll likely be dreaming away the next night.