Category: Insomnia

Four Strategies to Get Some Zzzzzzz’s

By Ariel Campbell

Most adults have experienced symptoms of insomnia at some point in their lives. In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation between 30-50% of adults have occasional difficulties falling or staying asleep, waking up early, or waking up not feeling rested. Lack of adequate sleep can negatively influence our daily functioning by leading to impairments in attention and concentration, increased irritability, and overall poorer mental health. However, for those of us who suffer from occasional insomnia there are a number of healthy habits we can incorporate into our daily routines to improve our quality of sleep.

In order to understand how and why these habits can be useful in promoting restful sleep, knowing some basics about sleep is helpful. Our sleep is regulated by our body’s natural circadian rhythm. This circadian rhythm is responsible for our feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day and is controlled by light and dark signals that occur naturally in our environments. For adults, sleep proceeds in a predictable pattern that involves 4-5 repetitions of a 90-minute sleep cycle, with each sleep cycle including 5 sleep stages. During sleep, a number of changes happen in our bodies – our heart rate and breathing slow down, our blood pressure and body temperature drop, our bodies produce and regulate a number of important hormones including those that impact growth and hunger, and our brains cycle through varying levels of activity.

Now onto some of the daily habits that can promote and improve sleep…

First, developing a bedtime routine can be an effective strategy for helping our minds and bodies transition into a state of relaxation after a busy day. Having a structured pre-sleep routine that includes a relaxing activity, like reading or listening to music, can promote sleep by helping us to form habits that actually function to cue sleep. Stimulating activities and screens, on the other hand, should be avoided during the 30-60 minutes before bedtime and as a general rule of thumb the only activities that should be carried out in bed are those related to sleep and intimacy. Additionally, an essential part of any good sleep routine involves keeping regular sleep and wake times, even over the weekend, insofar as this helps to maintain a consistent circadian rhythm.

Second, attending to certain factors within our sleeping environment can help to ensure high-quality sleep. Since light is a powerful cue for our body’s internal clock, keeping the bedroom as dark as possible while sleeping and dimming the lights one hour before bedtime are helpful sleep habits. If fully avoiding screens before bedtime isn’t possible, switching your cell phone or computer screen into nighttime mode is advisable because the blue light of daytime mode (as opposed to the red light of nighttime mode) will actually delay the release of melatonin making it harder to fall asleep. Keeping the bedroom temperature between 60-70 degrees while sleeping is another useful strategy that works by helping our bodies to maintain the drop in body temperature that accompanies sleep. And lastly, since our brains are still active and responsive during sleep a final consideration when it comes to structuring our sleeping environment is to limit noise as much as possible. Noise tends to be most disruptive during the first and second stages of sleep and during the second half of the night. Additionally “peak” sounds, for example busy street noises, are more damaging to sleep than ambient background sounds. If it’s difficult to eliminate noise while sleeping, white noise can help to reduce disruptions in sleep due to sound. Today, there are many apps for white noise but a fan or air conditioner that produces a consistent sound will also do the trick.

Third, certain exercise and dietary habits have also been shown to impact sleep. Aerobic exercise, like walking, swimming, or biking, can aid in sleep by increasing the amount of time our body spends in the deeper and most restorative stages of sleep. 20 minutes or more of daily aerobic exercise engaged in 4-5 hours before bed is recommended. While your morning coffee can help energize you for the day ahead, drinking a second cup of coffee during the afternoon or evening hours can disrupt sleep. Additionally, alcohol has been shown to cause impairments in sleep – although it may initially cause drowsiness and induce sleep, consuming alcohol before bed is associated with significantly more sleep disruptions during the second half of the night.

And finally, the timing, size, and content of meals can play a role in getting a good night’s sleep. For improved sleep, it is generally recommended that your largest meals be eaten earlier in the day and that snacks consumed before bedtime include complex carbohydrates and avoid sugar. Complex carbohydrates like whole-wheat breads, vegetables, fruit, and nuts break down slowly and help to prevent sudden spikes and crashes in blood sugar that can interfere with sleep.

While occasional symptoms of insomnia are common and not a significant cause for concern, they can nonetheless be disruptive to our daily routines. By using the above strategies for managing bedtime routines and environments as well as diet and exercise, you can develop healthy sleep habits that will promote a full night’s sleep and help you to wake up feeling rested and refreshed.

My New Year’s Resolution to Get More Sleep!

Written by Eric Pollak

2015 is upon us and our local gyms are filling up as people are beginning to fulfill their New Year’s resolutions. According to a University of Scranton study, losing weight, getting organized, and spending less/saving more were the top three New Year’s resolutions for 2014. These are great goals to focus on, and I encourage everyone to pursue these. However, one important item that is often neglected from New Year’s resolutions is sleep.

Research demonstrates that chronic lack of sleep is linked to numerous health difficulties including colds and flu, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and mental health issues. Despite these risks, prevalence of sleep problems is at an all-time high. According to a 2005 National Sleep Foundation (NSF) poll, more than 50% of Americans report at least one symptom of insomnia at least a few nights per week within the past year. Furthermore, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that approximately 30% of the population at large complains of sleep disturbance, and roughly 10% have symptoms that impair their daytime functioning similar to those that have a diagnosis of insomnia.

A refreshing night of sleep is a great way to start off the year, and can even help you save enough energy to keep working on your other resolutions as well. Therefore, here are three things I will be doing this year to dramatically improve my sleep:

1. Don’t do anything in your bed except for sleep and sex:
It is crucial that while in bed, you avoid doing anything aside from sleep and sexual activity. This includes, but is not limited to, watching TV, eating, studying, texting, reading, or using your phone in any manner. If you are like the many people that partake in any of these activities in your bed, then you are inadvertently training yourself to stay awake. This is because you learn to associate normal sleep cues (bed, bedroom, etc) with activities other than sleep. In order to create a strong connection between your bed and sleep, you must refrain from all other activities. If you stay away from these activities while in bed, you will increase your likelihood of falling and staying asleep at night.

2. Limit the amount of exposure to blue wavelength light one hour before bedtime:
Research at Harvard University and elsewhere has demonstrated that blue wavelength light – which is emitted by computers, cell phones, TV’s, and energy-efficient bulbs (CFLs) – can suppress the secretion of melatonin (a hormone that helps control sleep and wake cycles) and have a significant negative impact on sleep. So, start powering down a full hour before bedtime and make sure to expose yourself to lots of sunlight throughout the day.

3. Make your bedroom as comfortable as possible:
It is important that your bedroom be very sleep-friendly. When it’s time for bed, make sure that the lights are turned off and that your room is dark. Additionally, attempt to limit surrounding noise (including snoring bed partners), which can cause you to wake or move during sleep, thus impacting your sleep quality. If needed, use an eye mask, black out curtains, or earplugs to reduce light and noise. Furthermore, due to the rise and fall of your body temperature throughout the night, sleep experts suggest that a cool room (60-68 degrees) is optimal for sleep. If this temperature is too cold for you, use blankets to keep yourself warm.

While 75% of Americans are successful at upholding their resolution during the first week in the New Year, this number drops significantly by June. I hope I’ll be successful in keeping to this plan. Here’s to a restful and refreshing year!