By Maria Lebron
There are many reasons why you may be having problems sleeping, but whatever the reason, it can take a toll on you mentally and physically. While you’re asleep, your body releases hormones that affect your mood, energy, memory, and concentration. Someone who is sleep deprived may perform as badly as intoxicated people on a driving simulator or while performing a hand-eye coordination task. Chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to cause high blood pressure and contribute to problems with diabetes.
We all experience some short term insomnia at one time or another. Insomnia includes trouble falling asleep, trouble getting back to sleep, and waking up too early. Feeling tired every so often is not usually a problem, but if drowsiness interferes with your routine activities, that may be problematic. Try to sleep more to see if that helps. The number of hours each person needs to feel rested and alert the next day can vary. Naps can help but the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends taking naps before 3pm and for no longer than an hour so that it doesn’t interfere with falling asleep at night.
Insomnia is considered chronic when sleeplessness is experienced most nights over a period of a few weeks or more. It’s best to rule out a medical cause for insomnia since
insomnia can be caused by an underlying illness which needs treatment, such as thyroid disorders, anxiety, depression, etc. You should also check that the medications you are taking are not causing your sleep problems.
Stages of Sleep:
Sleep consists of five stages:
Stage 1: Light sleep where you’re probably still aware of some things going on around you and can be awakened easily.
Stage 2: You’re now fully asleep and not aware of your surroundings. Your eye movements stop or slow down, your heart rate and breathing regulate, your body temperature goes down, and your brain waves start to slow with occasional bursts of rapid waves.
Stage 3: Deep sleep consisting of extremely slow brain waves mixed with only a few smaller, faster waves. Your breathing slows down and your muscles relax. In this stage of sleep, it’s difficult for you to awaken easily and you may feel disoriented if you suddenly wake up.
Stage 4: A deeper sleep where brain waves slow down even more and where there are no eye movements and no muscle activity. It’s believed that in this stage tissue repair occurs and that hormones are released to help with growth.
Stage 5: The final stage of sleep is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep where breathing becomes more rapid, irregular, and shallow. Your eyes move rapidly, your blood pressure and heart rate increase, and your arms and legs are paralyzed so that you can’t act out your dreams. Dreams almost always happen in this stage but they may occur in other sleep stages as well. The purpose of this stage is to stimulate the areas in the brain that are needed for memory and learning and for the brain to store and sort information. REM sleep occurs approximately 90 minutes into the sleep cycle.
The length of each cycle changes throughout the night, but the typical sleeper will cycle through the stages several times before waking. As the cycles repeat, deep sleep periods get shorter and periods of REM sleep lengthen. Infants start out spending about half of their sleep time in REM sleep. Adults spend half of their sleep time in stage 2, twenty percent of the time in REM sleep, and thirty percent in the other stages. If deeper levels of sleep aren’t reached, this can lead to the body’s inability to repair damage, have fewer dreams, and experience increased fatigue.
— If you nap, don’t do it later than 3 pm and for no more than an hour.
— Don’t eat large meals within two hours of bedtime.
— Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine four to six hours before bedtime.
— If you are on medications that act as stimulants, such as decongestants or asthma inhalers, ask your doctor when they should best be taken so they don’t interfere with sleep.
— Exercising may help you sleep more soundly, but don’t exercise within two hours of bedtime.
— Keep a regular sleep-wake cycle by trying to go to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
— Wind down 30 minutes before bedtime with a pre-sleep activity such as reading, a warm bath, soft music, etc. Do not read, watch TV, or be on your phone/iPad in bed so that you become accustomed to thinking of going to bed only with sleep or sex.
— Sleep in a dark, quiet room with a comfortable temperature.
— Try to reduce stress and a racing mind by not worrying or thinking about problems while you are trying to sleep. It may be helpful to do some breathing exercises or meditation as you’re preparing to fall sleep. If your mind continues to wander, bring your mind back to the breathing or meditation.
— If you still can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and go to another part of your home and do something soothing, such as reading, listening to quiet music, meditation, etc. You don’t want to continue to lie in bed for too long and create a mental connection between your bed and wakefulness.
It may take some time to have these techniques take effect. If you still continue to experience sleep disturbances, it may be helpful to see your medical doctor and/or a therapist.