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It's World Sleep Day - Let's Talk Insomnia

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It's World Sleep Day - Let's Talk Insomnia

Robin Rohlfing

Lead Polysomnographer

Atlantic General Hospital Sleep Lab

World Sleep Day is an annual event that began in 2008. It is a celebration of the benefits of healthy sleep and a call to action for individuals to address their sleeping issues and recognize the impact that sleep has on one’s daily life. World Sleep Day is celebrated each year on the Friday before the March equinox. This year, World Sleep Day is March 18th. This year’s theme is “quality sleep, sound mind, happy world.” In today’s busy society, many people do not get enough sleep. Reasons for this vary from having too much to do, not being able to sleep, sleep disorders or simply not knowing how much sleep the body and brain actually require for optimal functioning.

The average adult requires 7 – 8 hours of sleep per night for their body and mind to function properly. The sad reality is that 44% of adults sleep less than 7 hours per night, while 16 percent of adults sleep less than 6 hours per night. Consistently not getting enough sleep can cause physical problems such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke and diabetes; and also mental problems such as slow reaction times, irritability, depression, anxiety and mood swings. Not to mention the obvious general sense of tiredness, fatigue and lack of energy and increased risks of accidents when operating a vehicle or heavy machinery.

While there are a variety of different reasons why people do not get enough sleep, many people, at least some time in their lives, are afflicted with insomnia. Insomnia occurs when an individual attempts to get the adequate amount of sleep, but is unable to because they either cannot fall asleep once they are in bed or they wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to go back to sleep. Often times insomnia may be caused by another underlying sleep disorder, the side effect of medications or mental or emotional concerns such as stress or grief. Insomnia usually lasts a few days to a few weeks, but being sure to practice good sleeping habits can help one gain control of insomnia sooner.

The sleeping environment is important to quality sleep. The bedroom should be cool, quiet and dark. Television and electronics, such as computers or cell phones, should not be used during sleeping hours. The light from these devices stimulates the brain and makes it more difficult to fall asleep. However, a paper book can work wonders to help relax you before bed without the excessive light. The bedroom should only be used for sleeping. Paying bills, answering emails or doing work from the bedroom may cause your brain to associate the bedroom with a source of stress. Additionally, if you are unable to sleep for an extended period of time, get out of bed and go to a different room to try a relaxing bedtime ritual such as a warm bath, a light snack or listening to relaxing music.

There are also a variety of habits that you can practice during the day to help prevent insomnia at night. Exposing yourself to natural sunlight and keeping a consistent sleep and wake schedule will help prevent insomnia. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime. Do not eat large meals or perform heavy exercise to close to bedtime, as these things may make it more difficult to fall asleep.

If insomnia persists for a period of 3 months or longer, you should consult your physician. Many sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea sometimes present with symptoms of insomnia, especially in women. If sleep disorders are ruled out and insomnia still lingers, your physician may prescribe sleeping medication or refer you for a type of cognitive behavioral therapy specifically designed to treat insomnia.