Sleep loss is forever. What this means is that you can never get it back by trying to sleep longer on the weekends, for example. Here are some other kind of disturbing facts about sleep loss:
- At least 80 percent of us do not get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep.
- Sleep loss adds to an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, cancer, diabetes, and shortens our life spans.
- After being awake for over 18 hours, your brain operates the same way it would if you had consumed a couple of stiff drinks.
What Causes Sleep Loss?
Anyone who experiences trouble sleeping can probably make a long list of reasons for it:
1. Financial worries: People who have experienced a job loss and who have serious financial obligations wonder how they will meet them with a loss of income for any extended period of time; people who are not bringing in enough income to meet their bills are up worrying about how to hold off the bill collectors. These are real worries, of course, and even though we know that losing sleep over them will not change things, we still lose sleep!
2. Relationship worries: When things are not right between you and your spouse/partner or a close family member, you lose sleep trying to problem-solve the issues.
3. Infants and toddlers in the household: Ask any new parents — sleepless nights come with the territory. Fortunately, there is an end in sight, even though it may be a year or so away.
4. Too much stimulation late at night: If you have been involved in too much physical or mental activity close to bedtime, you will take much longer to fall asleep.
5. Worries about the future: We all do it. What can we do to keep our job secure? What will happen when the new manager comes in next month? What will happen when my mom needs a nursing home and can’t afford it?
6. A spouse/partner who is an owl while you are a lark: Even if they are in another room and trying to be really quiet, you know they are not in bed, and you have difficulty falling asleep
7. A bad mattress: This is actually pretty common, but it is the easiest problem to fix. Getting a better mattress will help ease aches and pains and will help you start getting better sleep.
Fixing the Problem
So, you have decided that you are tired of being tired; you are tired of not being “on top of your game” at work or play. Before you run to the doctor and ask for a sleep medication, here are a number of things that you can try first.
1. Set a firm schedule.
Now, this may not always be possible. After all, there are parties, movies, family gatherings, and such that will throw off a schedule. But stick to it as consistently as possible. Set a bedtime and follow it — every night. Set a wake-up time, and get up at that same time every day. You are training your brain and your body to respond to messages of when it is time to rest and when it is time to wake.
2. Make up lost sleep ASAP.
Loss of sleep cannot really be “made up,” but it is still a good idea to try to get in a nap after a bad night’s sleep. And get it in as early as possible the day after, so that you can stay on your schedule. The reason for this piece of advice is this: if you can get in a bit of a nap, you will feel more rested and energetic.
3. No alcohol before bed.
There is some disagreement on this one. Maybe when you were in college, you remember the late-night drinking parties that caused you to pass out. And lots of people swear by a glass of wine before bed to relax them. Alcohol does relax you, but studies show that it also causes you to wake every 1.5 hours during the night. You may not realize it, but your sleep patterns are being disrupted, and you will not wake refreshed.
4. No caffeine after mid-afternoon.
Caffeine stays in your system up to six hours after consumption. And, yes, it does keep stimulating your brain and your body during that time. If you plan to go to bed at 10 p.m., no caffeine after 4 p.m.
5. Strenuous exercise in early evening, please.
Lots of people claim that exercise before bed helps them fall asleep and stay asleep. This is true, so long as that exercise is not playing basketball, volleyball, or working out at the gym. Mild exercise, like stretching, before bed can be really helpful, but intense exercise will keep you awake at night. Here’s the physical reason for this: Hard exercise raises your body temperature. The higher the temperature, that more difficult it is to fall asleep, because your body needs a lower temp to put itself at rest. 65 degrees is ideal. So cool down your room as well, but not too much. The problem with a room that is too cold is that your brain and body are going to be hard at work bringing up and keeping your body at a good temperature for them to rest.
6. Dim the lights as the evening goes forward.
Part of telling your brain that it is time for rest is lowering the lighting level. And, if you wake up in the middle of the night and turn lights on, keep them low.
7. Get the kids and the pets off the bed.
If you sleep like a log, extra bodies probably won’t disturb you. If you don’t, though, they will. This is hard to do, but you will be a much better playmate for them with a decent sleep.
8. Read fluff or really boring stuff.
No reading anything related to work right before bed! Either read a novel you really like or find something that relaxes you. Just be careful not to pick something too exciting or you’ll stay up late trying to finish it.
9. No electronics in the bedroom.
One of two things will happen. Either you be reminded about those memos you did not read or did not get out today, and just decide to get them done now. Or, you get on Facebook, and you can’t stop watching those videos about cats and elephants making friends or responding to every post from every friend on there.
10. Get out of bed if you wake up after you’ve fallen asleep.
Do not lie in bed and ruminate about how late it is and how tired you are going to be tomorrow. Get up, leave the room; go sit quietly in another room and read under a low light. Your body will be tired again in 10 to 15 minutes.
11. Create a Bedtime Routine.
Start your set routine every night about an hour before bedtime. Maybe have that glass of wine, turn off TV, shower, brush your teeth, etc. Do that same routine every night, no matter what it is. Your brain and your body begin to connect that activity with sleep and both begin to prepare for it.
12. Write it Down.
This is probably the most common complaint of insomniacs. They just can’t shut their brains down. If you are worrying about things you must get done tomorrow; if you are worrying about how to solve a problem with a friend or family member; if you are angry or really resentful about something that has happened, then you have to break the thought pattern. The most effective way, say psychologists, is to get up, and write it all down. Just the physical act of putting pen to paper and writing about it releases it from your thoughts and puts it somewhere else. Make that list of the things you have to do tomorrow; write a letter (you’ll never mail it) to that person who made you so angry, sad, or resentful today. This is known as cathartic release (big term for simply getting it off your chest).
You won’t cure your insomnia in a day, or even a few. These hacks involve habits you have to change. But for the sake of your health and relationships, find a few that work for you and stick with them.