Can't Sleep ? Help for Insomniacs
Insomnia or Not? It is normal for people to have difficulty sleeping at times, whether from stress, anxiety, looking after babies etc., what is not normal is feeling tired, difficulty getting to sleep and still feeling exhausted after a nights sleep.
Not getting enough sleep can have long term negative effects on physical and mental health, the body repairs and prepares for the following day during deep sleep.
Insomnia isn't a disease in itself, but rather the symptoms of something that prevents you getting sufficient quality sleep that would otherwise leave you refreshed for the following day.
There are some sleeping disorders that will require medical intervention, but the good thing is most insomniacs can help themselves with simple lifestyle changes.
Distressing and frustrating as it can be, insomnia it is not likely to be caused by anything serious.
Sleep Apnea is one condition that will need professional intervention, but many sufferers don't even know they have it.
Partners can often help with the diagnosis of this condition in which breathing temporarily stops, this wakes the sufferer briefly, but in a drowsy state they don't remember. This can happen many times per hour leaving the person exhausted no matter how long they slept.
A partner often hears these pauses in breathing, lasting well over 10 seconds in many cases, followed by noises from choking, gasping or snorting as breathing resumes. Chronic loud snoring can also be an indicator.
This can be a dangerous condition, not so much from itself but because it leaves the person vulnerable to having serious accidents due to sleepiness, so get help!
If it's not sleep apnea or narcolepsy, where the person can fall asleep randomly even in the middle of talking or driving for example, along with a range of other unusual symptoms ( I will cover in a future Hub), it is worth considering self help. There are other sleep disorders and ones that are indicative of other illness, so If you or others feel your sleep problem could be connected to or could be dangerous to yourself or others seek medical help immediately.
How to Help Yourself First
A good routine boring as it may sound is the single most important thing you can do to help yourself for sleeping problems. The body has a type of inbuilt clock to regulate our cycle of when to sleep and wake up, called Circadian Rhythms. These can work to our advantage or disadvantage depending whether we are in sync with them or not. See point No.7. A good routine will help almost all insomniacs over time.
A good routine would include the following:-
- Allow for 7-8 hours sleep time, some will require more others can make do with less.
- Go to bed/get up at the same time every day, ideally even on weekends.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol as long as possible before bedtime, try for 4 hours of more.
- This one is difficult for many, but try not to look at computer, mobile and Tv screens just before you want to sleep, they give off a light spectrum that can stimulate the brain.
- Engage in anything that relaxes you and your muscles preferably. Reading in bed helps many people escape from the days events.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, cool and dark, consider blackout blinds especially if you are a shift worker.
- At the start of your day try to expose yourself to bright light, especially the daylight spectrum for 30 minutes or more as this can help reset those circadian rhythms that can get out of synchronization for various reasons.
Sleeping tablets have a place, but should only be used for short periods in specific circumstances when sleep is essential, perhaps at time of great stress, hospital stays or certain illness. They should not be used long term as they will cease to be effective, can have side effects that may have the opposite effect, particularly on ending with them. The same can be true even of herbal remedies and you should really seek medical advice especially if you are taking any other medication.
Dealing With Unwanted Noise using White Noise or Sound Machines
Having a quiet bedroom is recommended for good sleep, but this is not always possible or even desirable for some, I am talking about those with tinnitus who can experience a range of noises that can become quite stressful for some sufferers, which will not aid sleep. A quiet room lets these noise dominate.
A sound machine can help mask tinnitus noise and other external sounds.
So tinnitus noises and other peoples noise can be often be stressful and can't always be avoided, a noise machine can help mask the unwanted noise with white noise (a range of frequencies that sounds a bit like an untuned radio) or play something soothing such as the sound of waves or gentle music. Pick one that plays something you would find relaxing, not everyone agrees on this!
There are a range of personal and environmental factors that can affect how well you sleep, not limited to physical and mental health, stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine, medications you are taking, including sleeping tablets. To help you find out what might affect your ability to sleep well it will help you if you keep a Sleep Diary.
This should include the following information:-
- Time you went to bed
- Time you got up
- Did you take any medication
- What and how much did you eat and drink in the hours before going to bed. Pay attention to large and fatty meals, alcohol and other high caffeine products
- What mood you were in at bedtime
- What pattern of sleep you had, did it take long to go to sleep, did you wake up many times.
- What did you do when you couldn't sleep.e.g. just stayed in bed, got up, read, made a drink of?
- Give you perceived sleep a quality rating
- How did you feel on getting up the following day.
From this diary over time you should be able to see what common factors in your lifestyle either help you get a good night's sleep, or often more obvious what prevents you sleeping well.
Look at the times you sleep better and see how they differ from periods when it was worse. Having seen what to change, then you need to put this change into action, give it time as a habit of not sleeping well has to change too.
If you are going down the self-help route and don't get the results you want, by keeping a sleep diary you will have some very useful data you can share with the relevant health professionals. Good luck, remember you are not alone in this matter and help is out there.