Have you ever struggled with sleep? Many people know what it feels like to have jet lag when traveling, or to toss and turn at night when they’re anxious and overwhelmed by life. But how do you know if your sleep problems have turned into insomnia? Read on to find out.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is a common, yet complex medical condition that can make it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, or make people feel like they’re not getting the amount of sleep they want. If you have any of these symptoms at least three nights per week for at least three months, you may have chronic insomnia.
Up to 48% of older adults experience insomnia, and Dr. Michael Breus, PhD, a board-certified clinical psychologist and sleep specialist, knows how frustrating it can be to struggle with sleep night after night.
“Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced, high-pressure world, many adults are unable to get the sleep they need,” explained Breus. “While life events and lifestyle habits may be a factor, it’s important to know that there can also be a physiological component that’s due to a miscue between the sleep and wake systems in the brain. As we age, our sleep cycles change, causing the wake signals in the brain to override the sleep signals. This leaves your brain in an overactive state and could result in insomnia.”
Although insomnia is more common in older adults, it doesn’t have to be accepted as a normal part of aging. Sleep hygiene can help, but sometimes changing habits isn’t enough to improve sleep. You should speak with a health care professional about other ways to tackle your sleep problems.
Tips for better sleep
If you regularly struggle with sleepless nights, follow these tips to help get back on track:
Adjust the lights: For two hours before bedtime, avoid using digital devices because the type of light from computer, television, smartphone, and tablet screens can change your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Instead, consider doing something relaxing such as reading a book. Also, at bedtime, the less light in the bedroom, the better. Keep your bedroom as dark as possible while you sleep.
Ignore the clock: Focusing on the sleepless minutes ticking away can cause more concern about being awake. For a simple fix, turn the clock around so you can’t see the time.
Get up and leave the bedroom: Lying in bed worrying about falling asleep may cause your brain to be more active. It may also start to link your bedroom with feelings of frustration instead of sleep. To avoid this, try a relaxing activity in another room, such as reading a book or listening to soothing, instrumental music. When you start feeling sleepy again, go back to the bedroom.
Consider lifestyle changes: Eating and exercise habits can also affect sleep. Try not to eat large meals before bedtime that can cause indigestion and avoid coffee and alcohol within three hours before bedtime. In addition, while exercise is beneficial, you shouldn’t exercise within three hours of going to bed.
Talk to a health care professional: Lifestyle changes might not be enough for some people, so don’t hesitate to talk to a health care professional about your insomnia. They can create a personal plan to help you get more sleep, that may include lifestyle changes, taking medication, or both.
Learn about behavioral therapy: A type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy can help you recognize your thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes toward sleep.
Don’t sleep on insomnia. Visit WhySoAwake.com to learn more about sleep and how to work with a health care professional to find an insomnia treatment plan that works for you.