Tips for Beating Insomnia
You know those nights when you can’t get your brain to settle down and then before you know it, it’s already two in the morning? That’s the struggle faced by those with insomnia. Whether it occurs frequently or just every now and then, it’s important to know the best ways to manage it so you can get a good night’s sleep.
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“Insomnia is the inability to initiate or sustain sleep, which can lead to distress or have an impact on daily functioning,” says Andrew Borson, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Crozer-Keystone Health System. “When you find yourself worrying a lot about your sleep, you may be starting to get in trouble with insomnia.”
There are two different types of insomnia: acute or chronic.
If you occasionally have difficulty falling asleep or wake frequently during the night, that would probably be considered acute insomnia. It characteristically lasts from one night to a couple weeks. Because it is relatively short-lived, it is rarely diagnosed.
Common causes of acute insomnia can include significant life stress (e.g. job status change or the death of a loved one), emotional or physical discomfort, certain medicines (e.g. cold or allergy medications), environmental factors (e.g. noise or light), and anything else that might interfere with a normal sleep schedule (e.g. jet lag or change in work shifts).
“Some [incidence of] insomnia will occur for most people occasionally, but more protracted problems with it are still relatively common - perhaps as much as a third of all people [suffer from it], although often they improve without any professional help,” Dr. Borson says.
Chronic insomnia, on the other hand, is diagnosed in those who experience symptoms at least three nights a week for a month or longer. Health issues such as depression, anxiety, chronic stress, pain or diseases such as cancer can cause long-term insomnia.
Although Dr. Borson suggests that insomnia might not cause or worsen pre-existing health problems, it might indicate an underlying problem with anxiety or depression that requires treatment. Otherwise, insomnia may simply be annoying or bothersome.
So what’s the best way to prevent insomnia flare-ups?
Follow these rules for good sleep hygiene:
- Have regular wake-up times that do not vary a lot from day to day, but don’t go to bed until you’re tired. According to Dr. Borson, it’s less important to go to bed at the same time.
- If you’re awake in bed for any length of time, then stop trying to go to sleep. Instead, get up and do something quiet, such as reading or listening to music until you get sleepy again.
- Reduce caffeine consumption and nicotine use, which are stimulants that can keep you from falling asleep.
- Avoid eating a heavy meal late in the day. You can, however, have a light snack before bedtime, such as a banana.
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool.
- Create a bedtime routine to help you unwind before bed—and stick with it.
- Don’t exercise late at night.
- Avoid using any type of brightly lit electronic device, such as your computer or phone, right before bed.
Dr. Borson cautions that if you take a sedative or sleeping pill, there’s a risk of becoming dependent on it. While it may be necessary for some people, it’s worth trying to address the problem with more behavioral means, such as the ones above.
For more information, visit Crozer-Keystone’s website at http://sleepcenters.crozerkeystone.org. Crozer-Keystone offers a multidisciplinary approach to the identification and treatment of all types of adult and pediatric sleep disorders. To make an appointment, visit our website or call 1-888-SLEEP-03 (1-888-753-3703).