Notes from an emergency room doctor: I can’t sleep. I want to sleep. I’ve got to sleep. But – BZZZZ! It’s time to get up. And all the rest of the day, I’ve got to stop yawning.
This scenario of insomnia and daytime drowsiness is familiar territory for those who work night shifts, frequently travel long hours across several time zones, or suffer from physical complaints.
It is not just night-shifters, jet-setters, or the infirm that fall prey to sleep-deprivation and fatigue. A common by-product of our high-tech life in the 90’s is stress. Today’s work often involves long hours and sometimes seemingly never ends. It can follow you home on a car phone, into your home via fax, or even on vacation as you access a laptop. And so, anxiety and stress can also make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
A good sign that you’re getting enough sleep is if you fall asleep in about ten minutes and wake up easily in the morning. If you go to sleep in just moments, you’re probably overtired. And if you’re drowsy during the day, you’re probably not getting enough sleep.
You may not be able to alter your job, or travel schedule, or the stresses in your daily life, but you may be able to improve on your night’s sleep, if you try the following techniques:
* Use your bedroom for sleeping, not for reading, TV. watching, or work.
* Your bedroom should be comfortable. Slightly cool is better than too warm. And you should be able to make it quiet and dark.
* Avoid caffeinated beverages after mid-afternoon. * Avoid smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant.
* Avoid spicy late night meals. They may cause indigestion.
* Although alcohol can make you drowsy, avoid it after dinner because it can also cause you to wake during the night by altering sleep patterns.
* Reduce your fluid intake after 8 p.m. to avoid nighttime trips to the bathroom.
* A light snack or small glass of milk before bedtime may help you sleep better.
* An exercise routine is helpful but avoid exercising within 3 hours of bedtime.
* A wind-down calming period is helpful about 30 minutes before retiring. Listen to soothing music, meditate, read, or take a bath.
* Avoid napping more than 15-30 minutes during the day and never after about 3 p.m. Chronic insomniacs should not take naps at all.
Many people with insomnia resort to over-the-counter sleep remedies. Most of these contain diphenhydramine or benadryl. This is an antihistamine which, although it has sedative properties, can also have adverse side-effects like dry mouth and dizziness. Chronic users can develop a tolerance to these sleep aids, requiring ever greater doses to be effective. Prescription drugs called “sedative-hypnotics” are useful for short term relief of sleep disorders. These may be benzodiazepines like Valium which have some potential for abuse or they may be newer drugs with less abuse potential like Ambien. From 3 to 11 percent of adults take “sleepers,” and the percentage increases with age.
Even if you have the time and inclination to sleep, perhaps the greatest bane to getting a good night’s rest is television. Just because you’re lying in bed watching late night TV. doesn’t mean you’re getting healthful rest. Sleep is a process where the brain disconnects itself from sensory and motor inputs. So, shut it off. If you keep watching enough of that junk, you won’t have much of a brain left to disconnect.