Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Tired? Tips For Getting A Good Night's Sleep

October 29, 2005

Of the three keys to good health - healthy diet, regular exercise and good sleep - we act as if sleep is our most dispensable and most negotiable need. It isn’t. It isn’t negotiable.

Sleep problems. It is estimated that 47 million Americans have some form of sleep problems. There are over 84 identified sleep disorders that lower quality of life and affect personal health.

Persistent insomnia may be caused by severe depression which affects sleep and the sleep cycle. People who are highly ambitious or anxious with demanding work schedules may find it difficult to fall asleep.

Short tem insomnia may be caused by recent trauma or loss, a new or perplexing change in one’s life or other temporary stressful conditions.

Many people suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. This may be caused by an obstruction of the nose or throat by enlarged tonsils or by a deviated nasal septum. This results in pauses in breathing during sleep. The body "wakes up" to regulate the breathing. Symptoms include snoring, gasping, morning headaches and daytime fatigue. A person may lose an effective two to three hours of sleep a night and not be aware of it.

If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, you may wish to consult a physician or sleep specialist.

How does our body cope? Our body has a mechanism called the sleep homeostat. If we resist falling asleep too long, eventually we go to sleep to compensate for the sleep deprivation. These inadvertent and unintended sleep episodes are often perceived by others as apathy or disinterest.

These periods of daytime drowsiness can be merely inconvenient, embarrassing or even tragic in their consequences. Sleep deprivation is a major cause of vehicle and industrial accidents.

How much sleep is enough? Your sleep requirements should be sufficient so that you are fully alert and energetic the next day. Most people need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep. The elderly average about six hours of sleep.

One way to determine how much sleep is normal is go on vacation where there is no schedule or alarm clocks. See how much sleep you require when there are no deadlines or pressures. The first few days may not be representative because it may take a while for the body to catch up on needed sleep.

Sleep suggestions.

- Have regular sleep and pre-sleep routines. Finding and sticking to a natural bedtime is important.

- Go to your bed for sleep only. I can think of one amorous exception. Your mind needs to associate bed with sleeping. Don’t study or watch TV in bed. Read somewhere else and then go to bed when sleepy.

- Lie in bed. If you haven’t fallen asleep within thirty minutes, go to a different place like a couch or recliner and rest with your eyes closed. This gives some benefits of rest to your brain even if it is not sleep. Listen to mood music. Don’t engage in activities that require mental exertion. Return to bed when sleepy. If this fails, repeat the routine and rest somewhere else until sleepy.

- Wake up at the same time each morning, regardless of how well you have slept. Do this even on weekends. Getting up at the same time will help regulate a regular bedtime in the evening. Irregular sleep and waking patterns confuse the biological clock.

- Research shows that two out of three people benefit by relaxing 90 minutes before bedtime. Relaxation might consist of meditation, reading for pleasure, listening to music or light viewing of TV. Engage in muscle relaxing exercises or take a warm bath.

- Naps less than thirty minutes in length taken at the same time every day may be helpful. Longer naps and naps taken after 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon interfere with more restful, uninterrupted sleep at night.

- Bedrooms need to be dark, cool and quiet. Don’t go to bed too hungry or too full. A light bedtime snack may help.

- Strenuous exercise in the evening or late at night interferes with normal sleep. Vigorous exercise at other times of the day releases energy and muscle tension and promotes good sleep. This should be finished at least 6 hours prior to bedtime.

- Don't drink caffeinated beverages six hours or less prior to bedtime. Cigarettes also have an arousing effect on the body. It takes 30 minutes for the body to get back to normal.

- Alcohol consumption deprives the body of deep sleep and causes awakening during the night. The sedation effect from alcohol wears off after two to three hours and then affects sleep negatively. Don’t drink alcohol when sleepy. Don’t combine alcohol with sleeping medications.

- Extensive use of medications such as tranquilizers, stimulants and steroids can interfere with deep restful sleep. Have your medications reviewed as to their impact on your sleep. Avoid use of sleeping pills for more than three weeks unless monitored closely.

- Plan out your schedule and tasks for the next day. Don’t take your problems to bed with you. Relax. They won’t be going anywhere and will be waiting for you in the morning.