Sleep - Just How Important Is It?
By: Sarah Willoughby, LCSW-R
Most people, at one time or another have had difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. It is estimated that 50 - 70 million people in the United States suffer from insomnia. Insomnia may include difficulty falling asleep, waking up throughout the night, or waking up earlier than anticipated and not being able to fall back asleep. Sleep deficiencies can contribute to a wide variety of difficulties, such as a weakened immune system, weight gain, concentration issues, mood changes, and decreased work performance. Along with nutrition and exercise, good sleep is one of the pillars of health. Exactly how much sleep is needed varies from person to person, but it is estimated that most adults need between seven to eight hours.
Insomnia can be caused by medical conditions, such as Restless Leg Syndrome, Sleep Apnea, or Chronic Pain. It can also be caused by mental health concerns such as stress, anxiety, and depression or by other factors such as poor sleep habits. Substances such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol also have a negative impact on sleep.
For those experiencing short-term insomnia, improved sleep hygiene habits can often have a positive impact on the quantity and quality of sleep. Below are some suggestions you may find helpful:
- Wake up at the same time each day. It is tempting to sleep late on weekends, especially if you have had poor sleep during the week. However, waking at the same time every day can help train your body to wake at a consistent time.
- Eliminate alcohol and stimulants like nicotine and caffeine. The effects of caffeine can last for several hours, especially if consumed in large doses. It is recommended that you limit your caffeine consumption to the early mornings and discontinue use after noon. Caffeine may not only cause difficulty initiating sleep, but may also cause frequent awakenings. Alcohol use can also be disruptive to sleep patterns as it has sedative effect for the first few hours following consumption, and then can then lead to frequent arousals and a non-restful night's sleep.
- Limit naps. While napping seems like a way to catch up on missed sleep, it is not always the case. It is important to establish and maintain a regular sleep pattern and train oneself to associate sleep with cues like darkness and a consistent bedtime. Napping can affect the quality of nighttime sleep. If you feel like to need a nap to improve overall functioning to get through the day, it is suggested that you take a ‘power nap’ and limit it to 15 minutes. This type of nap provides a significant benefit for improved alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with nighttime sleep.
- Limit activities in bed. The bed is for sleeping and intimacy only. If you suffer from insomnia, do not balance the checkbook, study, or make phone calls, for example, while in bed or even in the bedroom, and avoid watching television or browsing the web on your laptop or smartphone. All these activities can increase alertness and make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Make your sleeping environment comfortable. Temperature, lighting, and noise should be controlled to make the bedroom conducive to falling (and staying) asleep. Your bed should feel comfortable and if you have a pet that sleeps in the room with you, consider having the pet sleep somewhere else if it tends to make noise in the night.
- Reduce stress. There are a number of relaxation therapies and stress reduction methods you may want to try to relax the mind and the body before going to bed. Examples include progressive muscle relaxation (perhaps with audio tapes), deep breathing techniques, imagery, and meditation.
If you suffer from insomnia, know that help is available! Your Primary Care Physician may be able assess any potential medical problems. The Strong Employee Assistance Program can help evaluate your needs. And remember that Behavioral Health Partners is available for eligible individuals with mental health services for stress, anxiety, and depression. Programs are available to eligible individuals as part of Well-U.
For further information on sleep disorders and insomnia, visit:
Keith Stein |