By David Goldstein, M.D.
If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, or you wake up earlier than you would like, you may be suffering from insomnia. Found to be one of the most common sleep disorders, insomnia is experienced by as many as 40 percent of Americans at some point in their lifetime. It may be associated with stress, depression, anxiety, pain, or chronic illness. Poor sleep habits, such as an irregular sleep schedule, may contribute to insomnia and make it difficult to resolve its symptoms.
Not only can diseases such as arthritis, asthma, COPD, allergies, cancer, heart failure, thyroid disease, and Parkinson’s disease cause insomnia, many medications that are used for their treatment can lead to insomnia as well. Additionally, caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can all affect sleep and cause insomnia. Women are diagnosed with insomnia more than men and can experience symptoms at the onset of the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, and menopause.
Other common sleep disorders can exist at the same time as insomnia and result in sleep that is even more disturbed. Sleep disorders such as restless legs syndrome — a creeping, crawling sensation in the legs only relieved by movement, and obstructive sleep apnea — a breathing disorder with loud snoring and brief periods when the breathing stops, are conditions that should be evaluated.
Insomnia can be short term, or chronic, which lasts more than three months. Chronic insomnia is more likely not to go away on its own and you may want to see a physician or a sleep specialist.
Since a large number of Americans struggle with insomnia, prescription and over-the-counter sleep medications have become quite common. While sleep medications may help many people, they have potential side effects and can pose a significant risk. Behavioral techniques and adherence to healthy sleep habits, with or without the addition of medications, often have a dramatic effect in improving someone’s sleep.
Here are some suggestions to help achieve healthy sleep:
· Establish a regular sleep schedule and try to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time in the morning.
· Avoid alcohol within several hours of sleep.
· Avoid caffeine late in the day.
· Regular daytime exercise — check with your health care provider to make sure that exercise is appropriate for your health. Don’t exercise within three hours of sleep.
· Avoid use of your computer or other technical device before bedtime and during periods of the night that you awaken.
· If you awaken during the night and have difficulty falling back to sleep, avoid doing anything that is stimulating (e.g. exercise, doing bills, playing games on the computer).
· Make sure that your bedroom provides a comfortable environment in which to sleep.
David Goldstein, M.D., is a board certified sleep specialist and Medical Director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Raritan Bay Medical Center, a member of the Meridian Health family. The center provides the highest quality care for adults and children under the direction of board certified sleep physicians. Several types of sleep studies are provided for conditions such as sleep apnea, leg movements, night terrors and Narcolepsy. To schedule a consultation, call 732-360-4255, or take the sleep quiz at www.rbmc.org/sleep-center/sleep-survey/ to see if you could benefit from a sleep study.