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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

It’s a drag looking at the clock when we should be sleeping

I write about sleep a lot. This is because a) sleep is essential, b) I have sleep issues, c) I know a bit about sleep, and d) I think Americans are sleep deprived. I’m not alone in my opinion; the World Health Organization declared that sleep loss is an epidemic in industrialized nations.

The majority of adults in this country report sleep problems. Most of us have had a night of poor sleep. But too many nights of insufficient sleep can be harmful. Sleep experts say that adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night. The function of sleep is to restore your body. Inadequate or poor quality sleep can lead to daytime tiredness. Insufficient sleep can have a negative impact on daily performance and immune function, and has been linked to traffic accidents.

Start by talking to your doctor. Sleep problems can be caused by medical issues. One example is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea interferes with people’s breathing while they sleep and can cause serious health problems. People with sleep apnea often do not know they have it. Sleep apnea can be treated.

Tell your health provider about all the drugs you are taking. Some of these may be causing your sleep problems. For instance, certain cold medicines can keep people awake. Withdrawal from substances you have become dependent on can also cause insomnia.

Getting too stirred up before bedtime can make it hard to fall asleep. Worrying can cause us to toss and turn. Watching the news or exercising before bedtime can be over stimulating. Sleep experts recommend leaving the TV out of the bedroom. Turn off the TV. mobile devices and your computer an hour or two before bedtime.

The following can interfere with a good night’s sleep:

  • Caffeine – coffee, sodas, tea, chocolate
  • Light from electronic gadgets
  • Tobacco
  • A room that is too hot or too cold
  • Light
  • Noise
  • An uncomfortable bed
  • Using alcohol before bedtime
  • Being hungry
  • Eating a large meal close to bedtime
  • Drinking too many liquids before sleep
  • A snoring bed partner
  • A pet in the bedroom

Some tips to promote sleep:

  • It’s important to make 8 hours of sleep a regular habit. Sleeping less during the week and trying to catch up on the weekend doesn’t work.
  • Try to go to bed at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time.
  • Turn off all electronic devices and keep them out of the bedroom.
  • If you have a clock that is always lit up, turn it so you can’t see the time.
  • Exercise every day.
  • If you nap, keep it short and early in the day.
  • Try reading before bedtime, but use a low-watt bulb.
  • Do not eat a few hours before bedtime but don’t go to bed hungry. If you eat something, choose food that is light and nutritious. Avoid spicy or greasy food.
  • Take a hot bath before retiring.
  • If you feel you need to worry, tell yourself that you will only worry in the daytime. Make your bedroom a fret-free zone. Learn relaxation techniques to reduce stress and worrying.
  • Listen to relaxation tapes before retiring.
  • Do not lay awake in bed for more than 20 to 30 minutes. Get up and do something boring for a little while and then go back to bed.
  • Your bed is for sleep and sex. If you are not doing either of these, stay out of bed.

Sometimes herbal teas can be used to aid relaxation.  The downside of herbal teas is that some people are awakened by the need to urinate. Chamomile tea is one of the more widely used herbs for sleep promotion. The scent of lavender on linens or near the bed is thought to promote relaxation. If you use herbs for sleep, be sure to check for potential interactions with other medications or supplements you may be taking.

If sleep problems persist, your medical provider may want to prescribe medication for sleep. Both prescription and over-the-counter drugs can be very effective for this problem, albeit medications are usually a temporary fix. Some medications can be habit-forming, so it’s important to tell your provider if you have a history of substance abuse. With sufficient and accurate information, your medical provider is likely to find a medication that is suited to your situation. If the medication you try does not work well for you, report this to your provider. There are many drugs that can be used and sometimes it’s a matter of finding a good fit.

Insomnia can be a drain on your quality of life. Don’t lay awake thinking about it. Get some help.

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