by Dr. CC Sharma
Do you fall asleep the second your head hits the pillow at night? Or are you like 30% of Americans who suffer from insomnia? Insomnia results in approximately five million visits to the doctor each year. Although prescribed sleep aids may be necessary for some, it is important to understand there are some simple things you can do to improve your sleep, and the difference between common sleep difficulties and pathologic insomnia.
Determining problems with your sleep can be as simple as asking yourself three questions:
- Do I have difficulty with initiating or falling asleep?
- Do I have difficulty staying asleep?
- Do I often feel unrested?
Over time, if these problems begin to affect your behavior, mood, and ability to perform tasks at work or in your life, then you may be suffering from insomnia.
There are a number of things that you can do yourself to improve the quality of your sleep. In fact, your doctor is likely to recommend many of these lifestyle modifications and sleep hygiene techniques before starting a medication.
- Find an outlet for your stress through relaxation exercises such as yoga, tai-chi, or aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, elliptical, or running (but not within four hours of bedtime).
- Avoid large evening meals.
- Limit caffeine intake and avoid it six hours before bedtime.
- Avoid electronics in the bedroom, including televisions, cell phones, and tablets.
- Find an ideal temperature for your bedroom, avoiding extreme temperature variations.
- If you cannot fall asleep after 30 minutes in bed, get up and do something else. Go back to bed only when you do feel sleepy.
- Try to maintain a consistent bedtime and set your alarm for the same time each morning.
- Try melatonin tablets or chamomile tea to help soothe you into sleep.
If you are still having sleep difficulties, then it may be time to see your doctor. There are a number of psychiatric and health issues that can affect your sleep such as restless leg syndrome, thyroid disorder, heart issues, and breathing disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea.
You owe it to yourself and others around you to be well-rested. And your doctor won’t mind not having to see you so often.
Dr. CC Sharma is a third year resident at the UND Center for Family Medicine in Bismarck, North Dakota. Her interests include women’s health and HIV preventative health.