Insomnia has become a major health issue for many Americans. The United States National Institutes of Health estimates that at least 60 million Americans experience occasional to chronic sleep problems every year.
“As difficult as insomnia can be by itself, ongoing sleep deprivation can lead to other significant health problems,” says Derek Loewy, PhD, a Scripps Health psychologist board certified in behavioral sleep medicine.
It can weaken the body’s immune system and cause depression, asthma, arthritis, heartburn and chronic pain. Difficulty concentrating, automobile accidents and missed work can also be consequences of inadequate sleep.
“Many people have tried different medications to help them get a good night’s sleep, but those drugs can be quite dangerous themselves,” says Dr. Loewy.
Research has shown that the risk of death is more than four times as high among regular sleeping pill users. Fortunately, there are a number of other ways you can get a better night’s sleep.
Dr. Loewy offered these tips that you can start using right away:
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet.
- Don’t use electronics in bed.
- Keep your sleeping environment just for sleep. In other words, don’t stay in bed if you are not tired or if your mind is racing with other thoughts.
- Go to bed only when you are genuinely sleepy and your mind is rested.
- Identifying and resolving issues such as work, finances or family problems may also be able to ease insomnia.
- Depression and anxiety about stressful issues can interrupt regular sleep.
- Talking to a professional about those issues may be able to help decrease stress levels and improve sleep.
- Understanding how your natural clock works can lead to better sleep.
- Circadian rhythm is driven by the rising and setting of the sun, so sleeping more than 40 minutes in the daytime can leave people groggy, disoriented and even more tired than before.
- Try going to sleep and waking around the same time every day.
- Get at least an hour of exposure to outdoor light every day
- Relaxation therapies before bed, such as yoga, can lead to a good night’s sleep.
- Exercise just before bedtime, on the other hand, can make sleep more difficult.
- Work out in the morning or afternoon to promote sleep later.
- Caffeine and alcohol can also interfere with sleep.
- Avoid caffeine after mid-afternoon and limit alcohol in the evening.
- While alcohol may cause drowsiness initially, it can disrupt sleep hours later.
It is important to practice good sleeping habits. Changing the bad ones may be the answer to a better night’s sleep.