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Posts Tagged ‘Wellness’

Insomnia

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Ever since returning from Punta Cana, I’ve been dealing with a pretty bad case of insomnia. I’ve woken up every night at 1 am and again at 4 am and lied awake for a half hour to an hour each time. Some people may be able to function on this amount of sleep but I am not one of them. By the end of the week I was so exhausted I was actually beginning to feel sick. Here’s more information about insomnia from Mayo Clinic:

Insomnia includes having trouble falling or staying asleep. It’s one of the most common medical complaints. With insomnia, you usually awaken feeling unrefreshed, which takes a toll on your ability to function during the day. Insomnia can sap not only your energy level and mood, but also your health, work performance and quality of life.

To be honest, I have had mild-moderate insomnia since high school, but it always seems worse when I return from vacation. After a week back to work, with a hectic schedule of meetings, I was definitely feeling the effects of my sleepless nights. Friday afternoon a migraine kicked in and I was in bed from 5 PM until 11 Am the next day. I thought that having caught up on sleep I’d feel much better. Unfortunately I still feel run down and tired.

While I slept through the night Friday, my insomnia kicked back into high gear on Saturday and Sunday. I’ve never known the cause of my insomnia, but I’ve had some theories. According to Mayo Clinic, the most common causes of insomnia include:

  • Stress. Concerns about work, school, health or family can keep your mind active at night, making it difficult to sleep. Stressful life events, such as the death or illness of a loved one, divorce, or a job loss, may lead to insomnia.
  • Anxiety. Everyday anxieties as well as more-serious anxiety disorders may disrupt your asleep.
  • Depression. You might either sleep too much or have trouble sleeping if you’re depressed. This may be due to chemical imbalances in your brain or because worries that accompany depression may keep you from relaxing enough to fall asleep. Insomnia often accompanies other mental health disorders as well.
  • Medications. Prescription drugs that can interfere with sleep include some antidepressants, heart and blood pressure medications, allergy medications, stimulants (such as Ritalin) and corticosteroids. Many over-the-counter (OTC) medications, including some pain medication combinations, decongestants and weight-loss products, contain caffeine and other stimulants.
  • Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Coffee, tea, cola and other caffeine-containing drinks are well-known stimulants. Drinking coffee in the late afternoon can keep you from falling asleep at night. Nicotine in tobacco products is another stimulant that can cause insomnia. Alcohol is a sedative that may help you fall asleep, but it prevents deeper stages of sleep and often causes you to awaken in the middle of the night.
  • Medical conditions. If you have chronic pain, breathing difficulties or need to urinate frequently, you might develop insomnia. Conditions linked with insomnia include arthritis, cancer, congestive heart failure, diabetes, lung disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), overactive thyroid, stroke, Parkinson disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Making sure that your medical conditions are well treated may help with your insomnia.
  • Change in your environment or work schedule. Travel or working a late or early shift can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythms, making it difficult to sleep. Your circadian rhythms act as internal clocks, guiding such things as your wake-sleep cycle, metabolism and body temperature.
  • Poor sleep habits. Habits that help promote good sleep are called “sleep hygiene.” Poor sleep hygiene includes an irregular sleep schedule, stimulating activities before bed, an uncomfortable sleep environment and use of your bed for activities other than sleep or sex.
  • Eating too much late in the evening. Having a light snack before bedtime is OK, but eating too much may cause you to feel physically uncomfortable while lying down, making it difficult to get to sleep.

Of the causes listed above I’m most guilty of poor sleep habits, eating too much late in the evening, and drinking alcohol. To be more specific, my habits include watching TV in bed, doing work in bed, blogging in bed, working out late at night, eating dinner late at night and having a glass of wine to wind down. With a few simple changes I should be able to improve my sleep habits. Here’s my plan:

  • Use your bed only for sleeping or intimate relations. Jeff and I finally bought a TV, so we won’t watch TV on the laptop in bed anymore. He also set up an office outside the bedroom so I can work there.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable. For me that means it needs to be set at the right temperature and kept as dark as possible. I just purchased black-out curtains. In terms of temperature its more about the sheets – I tend to sweat in the night, so I need something lightweight that breathes.
  • Exercise early. This is a double-edged sword. I know I need to work out earlier in the day, the recommendation is five hours before bedtime. I’d prefer to workout in the morning, but if I don’t sleep soundly is doesn’t happen. For this week, my goal is to be at the gym by 6 PM, in bed by 11 PM and up at 7. Then beginning Sunday I will aim to be in bed by 10 PM and up at 6 AM so I can shift to morning workouts.
  • Avoid alcohol. I like to have a glass of wine every now and then to unwind after a long day, but for the time being, I need to take a break from the vino. Once I am sleeping more soundly, I hope I can incorporate the occasional glass of wine with dinner.
  • Avoid large meals before bed. My grandma always said eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. I’m definitely not of that mindset. Since my workouts will be finished earlier, I want to have dinner on the table by 7:30, giving me 2 hours to digest before bedtime.

I hope that over the next month or so I’m able to improve my sleep cycle, however, if these changes don’t help I definitely plan on seeking medical attention. I think sleep is one of the best things you can do for your body and mind and it’s been too long since I’ve been able to sleep soundly.

For more information on insomnia and sleep disorders, check out these resources:

American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Mayo Clinic

National Foundation of Sleep

Sleep Education

Have you ever suffered from insomnia? How did you learn to cope with it?