At one time or another, almost all of us have difficulty sleeping-a condition known as insomnia. It could be due to a particular situation such as the breakup of a relationship, concern about a test score or the loss of job. Some cases of insomnia, however have no obvious case. Some people are simply unable to fall asleep easily or they go to sleep readily but wake up frequently during the night. Insomnia is a problem that afflicts as many as one-third of all people.
Other sleep problems are less common than insomnia although they are still widespread. For instance, some 20 million suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person has difficulty breathing while sleeping. The result is disturbed, fitful sleep, as the person is constantly reawakened when the lack of oxygen becomes great enough to trigger a waking response. Some people with apnea wake as many as 500 times during the course of a night, although they may not even be aware that they have wakened. Not surprisingly, such disturbed sleep results in extreme fatigue the next day. Sleep apnea also may play a role in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), a mysterious killer of seemingly normal infants who die while sleeping.
Night terrors are sudden awakenings from non-REM sleep that are accompanied by extreme fear, panic, and strong physiological arousal. Usual occurring in stage 4 sleep, night terrors may be so frightening that a sleeper awakens with shriek. Although night terrors initially produce great agitation, victims usually can get back to sleep fairly. They occur frequently in children between ages of 3 and 8.
Narcolepsy is uncontrollable sleeping that occurs for short periods while a person is awake. No matter what the activity-holding a heated conversation, exercising, or driving-a narcoleptic will suddenly fall asleep. People with narcolepsy go directly from wakefulness to REM sleep, skipping the other stages.
We know relatively little about sleeptalking and sleepwalking, two sleep disturbances that are usually harmless. Both occur during stage 4 sleep and more common in children than in adults. Sleeptalkers ad sleepwalkers usually have a vague consciousness of the world around them and a sleepwalker may be able to walk with agility around obstructions in a crowded room. Unless a sleepwalker wanders into a dangerous environment, sleep walking typically poses little risk.
Ways to have good sleep
1. Only Sleep and Have Sex in the Bedroom
The bedroom should be used only for sleep and sex. That means no reading in bed and no TV in bed. Doing these things (or anything else) confuses your body, making it difficult to fall asleep. Give yourself about 15 minutes to fall asleep. If you haven’t fallen asleep by then, get out of bed until you are sleepy. You can do some quiet reading (pick something boring), but avoid TVs and computer screens. Remember, your goal is to train yourself to fall asleep quickly. Reading a stimulating book, watching TV or doing anything else undermines that.
2. Keep a Schedule
Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This will train your body to sleep on a schedule. If you can maintain this schedule for several weeks, you will probably find yourself falling asleep faster and feeling more refreshed. Do not sleep in on weekends or stay up late. Your body adjusts to changes in your sleep schedule at a rate of one hour per day. That means if you wake up at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays, but 8:30 a.m. on weekends, you need two days to adjust. You won’t be sleeping well again until Wednesday each week.
3. Make a Bedtime Ritual
Create a nightly ritual to signal that it is time to sleep. Start the ritual about 30 minutes before you lie down to help release stressful thoughts and be ready to sleep when you lie down. A little quiet reading (not in bed) or a warm bath can be great. Avoid watching TV, since it stimulates your brain.
4. Exercise Daily
Daily exercise will improve your chances of falling asleep quickly and sleeping deeply. Try to exercise early in the day and never within three hours of bedtime. Exercising too late in the day can make it difficult for you to fall asleep. A daily exercise habit will not only improve your sleep hygiene, but it will also improve your overall health.
5. Get Some Sunlight
Sunlight helps regulate your circadian clock and make you feel sleepy at night by stimulating your body to produce melatonin (a hormone that regulates your sleep cycle). You need exposure to bright light every day. Morning sunlight exposure can be especially helpful. Be sure to open the drapes every morning to let light in.
6. Avoid Caffeine in the Afternoon
Some people are caffeine sensitive and cannot drink any coffee, tea or other caffeinated beverage up to six hours before bedtime. If you are having trouble sleeping, try avoiding all afternoon and evening caffeine.
7. Make Your Bedroom Dark
The contrast between light during the day and dark at night helps reinforce your body’s natural rhythms. By making your bedroom dark at night, you will be able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Closing drapes and doors can help reduce the light in your bedroom.
8. Avoid Alcohol
That small glass of wine can make it more difficult to stay asleep. After an evening drink, you might fall asleep just fine, but you will likely wake up in the middle of the night. This effect is caused by a rebound in blood sugar and withdrawal from the alcohol after it is metabolized. Try avoiding alcohol before sleep and see if you sleep more soundly. For every drink you have, give your body at least an hour to process it before trying to fall asleep.
9. Don't Smoke
The nicotine in cigarettes is a stimulant that will keep you awake, which is just one of the things that smoking does to your body. If you smoke, many resources are available to help you quit. The benefits quitting include better sleep, a longer life, more energy and saving money. Smokers also may wake up early due to nicotine withdrawal.
10. See a Doctor
Finally, if these lifestyle changes don’t help, contact your doctor. You may have a sleep disorder or just may need some temporary help getting yourself in good ‘sleep shape.’