Have you ever had problems with falling asleep, staying asleep, or not feeling refreshed in the morning? Are you frequently irritable, depressed, or having difficulty concentrating? Author F. Scott Fitzgerald once said: “The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.”
Our bodies have a natural internal clock that closely follows the day and night cycles. Most adults need around seven to nine hours of sleep. Quality of sleep is just as important as the amount of sleep you get. Tossing and turning most of the night and waking up frequently can be just as bad for you as not sleeping.
There are many causes of insomnia; the most common are stress and poor sleep habits.
Unhealthy sleep habits include naps during the day time. Watching TV, playing video games, using a smartphone or other screens before going to bed can interfere with your sleep cycle.
Good habits that may help you sleep better include:
• Setting a regular sleep schedule with the same bedtime and wake time.
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• Only sleeping as much as needed to feel rested.
• Avoiding caffeine after lunch.
• Avoiding alcohol before bedtime as it can prevent you from getting to your deeper stages of sleep.
• Getting regular exercise during the day, but avoiding vigorous exercise two hours before bedtime.
• Keeping your bedroom quiet and dark.
• Using a white noise machine to help reduce noise.
Sleep also becomes more difficult as we age. This happens because noise and other changes in our environment are more likely to wake us up. With age, the internal clock changes and you get tired earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning. You may be less physically or socially active, and be more likely to take a daily nap. Medical conditions such as arthritis of the back or chronic pain can disrupt sleep. The more medicines you take, the greater the chance of insomnia related to medications.
One of the most commonly used over-the-counter medications used to treat insomnia is melatonin. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the human body. It helps to regulate our sleep cycles. The aging process and exposure to light decrease our natural melatonin production.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is recognized as the first-line therapy. It addresses thoughts and behaviors that interfere with a good night’s rest. This type of therapy has become more available using the internet or phone. This method can address anxious thoughts associated with being unable to sleep. It can guide relaxation techniques, mindfulness and meditation.
If you are still unable to get a good night’s sleep, talk with your primary care physician. Your doctor may set you up for a sleep study or discuss with you medications that have been approved for treatment of insomnia. It is important to discuss the side effects, risks and benefits of each type of medication with your doctor.
dr Paul Weeden, a family physician at RiverStone Health Clinic, can be reached at 406-247-3306.
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