It’s hard to have a productive day after a bad night’s sleep. Yet it’s estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans have chronic sleep problems. One in three Americans don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis.
Sleep Is Important
Driving while drowsy causes thousands of accidents and injuries each year. Drowsiness makes it more difficult to pay attention while driving and can slow reaction time.
In addition, research has shown sleep deprivation can affect memory as well as the ability to learn and retain new information.
Not getting enough sleep is linked with an increased risk of developing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and frequent mental distress.
Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
The following techniques can help you fall and stay asleep more easily. Talk with your doctor or a sleep-disorder specialist if the quality of your sleep doesn’t improve despite your efforts.
- Try to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, regardless of how much sleep you’ve had. Sticking to a schedule helps set your biological clock.
- Limit your use of caffeine before bedtime. Caffeine in coffee, cola, tea, and chocolate can hinder sleep. Don’t consume any caffeine four to six hours before your usual bedtime.
- Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation, if at all. Consuming alcohol before going to bed can interrupt deep sleep.
- Don’t smoke. Nicotine is a powerful stimulant.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any of your medications could be disrupting your sleep. Some over-the-counter pain relievers have as much caffeine as two cups of coffee.
- Exercise regularly. Thirty minutes of exercise three or four times a week will help you sleep better and deeper because exercise helps reduce mental and physical stress.
- Don’t overeat or undereat in the evening. Eating high-fat foods or large quantities of food for dinner can interfere with sleep because they’re difficult to digest. Likewise, an empty stomach can prevent deep sleep.
- Find ways to manage your stress, anxiety, and depression. Meditation, deep-relaxation therapy, positive self-talk, or professional help may offer relief.
- Set aside a time to worry early in the evening. If you often lie in bed thinking of what you should have done during the day and what you have to do tomorrow, make a plan for dealing with those distractions. Try making a to-do list so you don’t stay awake fearful you’ll forget to do something important.
- Avoid naps. Napping disrupts sleep-wake rhythms and can diminish your body’s sleep appetite, preventing the bedtime drowsiness that leads to rapid sleep onset and sound sleep.
- Create a good sleep environment. Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool at night; the ideal temperature is in the mid-60s. Keep the room dark by installing heavy draperies or a light-blocking shade.
- Check your bed. Trying to sleep on a bed that’s too hard or too soft is difficult. A bed that does not provide adequate comfort and support can contribute to or cause a sleep problem.
What You Need to Know About Sleeping Pills
Improving your sleep habits is the best way to beat insomnia. Sleeping pills should be taken only occasionally and as a last resort.
When used too often, these potentially addictive pills can diminish the quality of your sleep and produce serious side effects.
If you use sleeping pills, these guidelines will help you do so safely:
- Discuss your sleep problems with your doctor. Advise your physician of your medical history and of all prescription and non-prescription medications you are taking.
- Don’t take sleeping pills if you are pregnant or have a kidney or liver disease.
- Use the lowest dosage that works for you and don’t take a higher dosage than the product label suggests. Consult your doctor if your usual dosage no longer works.
- Never drink alcohol or take a sedative if you are taking or planning to take a sleeping pill. You could experience a dangerous or fatal drug interaction.
- Don’t drive or operate dangerous machinery after taking a sleeping pill. The medication’s sedating effects can last into the next day.
- Never give sleeping pills to a child or adolescent. Have a doctor or sleep specialist evaluate the youngster if he or she has trouble sleeping.
- If you are age 60 or older, talk with your doctor before taking a sleeping pill. Older adults need a lower dosage of sleeping medication than younger adults.
- Don’t take a sleeping pill if pain is keeping you awake; treat the pain with an over-the-counter pain reliever.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist how long before your bedtime you should take the medication. Sleeping pills take effect in different periods of time.
All About Sleep Apnea
Researchers estimate more than 18 million Americans have sleep apnea. People with the condition stop breathing for 10 to 30 seconds at a time while they are sleeping. These short stops in breathing can happen up to 400 times every night. The periods of not breathing wake the person up from deep sleep.
Overweight individuals and men over 50 have the greatest risk of the condition. However, you don’t have to be overweight to develop it. The biggest risk factor for children is large tonsils. Other people (adults and children) are simply born with narrowed nasal passages, small facial bones (cheek bones and/or jaw bones), or extra-soft tissues within the backs of their throats.
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of apnea. If you have this type, something is blocking the passage or windpipe that brings air into your body. Your windpipe might be blocked by your tongue, tonsils, or uvula.
Sleep apnea can cause heart disease and stroke if it goes untreated. You are also more likely to have traffic accidents if you drive while you’re sleepy.
Symptoms of sleep apnea include ear-splitting snores, daytime headaches, and chronic daytime fatigue.
Sleepiness contributes to a significant number of automobile deaths as well as other major catastrophes each year in this country. People should take fatigue seriously and understand that it can cause serious injuries; they should not drive or perform tasks that require close attention when they are sleepy.
Other symptoms relate to not receiving proper sleep. When people do not breathe properly, their oxygen levels drop and carbon dioxide levels build up through the night.
This causes the following symptoms:
- Feeling clumsy or uncoordinated
- Having poor concentration or difficulty following instructions
- Feeling depressed, blue, sad, on edge, or irritable
- Having morning headaches
- Having a lower sexual drive or impotence
Your doctor can diagnose sleep apnea. The person you sleep with may notice it first. You, or that person, may notice heavy snoring or long pauses in your breathing during sleep. If you have symptoms of sleep apnea, your doctor may ask you to go to a sleep center for a sleep study.
If you have sleep apnea, these steps may help you sleep better:
- Stop all use of alcohol or sleep medicines.
- If you are overweight, lose weight.
- Sleep on your side instead of on your back.
The primary medical therapy is nasal continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP. CPAP gently pumps air into the upper airway through a mask worn over the nose. This slight increase in air pressure pumps open the upper airway just enough to prevent any snoring as well as all apneas.
Other medical options are mouth pieces called tongue retaining devices that help keep the jaw or tongue forward.
There are several surgical procedures to help correct sleep apnea which include snipping out the uvula (the floppy tissue that hangs down in the back of the throat) and some other soft tissues.
Medical Conditions That Can Disrupt Your Sleep
Anxiety and stress are the most common causes of insomnia. But sleeplessness can also be caused by a variety of medical conditions and medications. If you suffer from insomnia and have any of the following medical conditions, ask your doctor about possible treatments.
Allergies, asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema can interfere with your breathing at night. In addition, many medications used to treat these conditions cause insomnia. Ask your doctor to give you a dosage schedule least likely to interfere with your bedtime.
Heartburn can interfere with your sleep when stomach acid seeps into the esophagus, triggering a reflex that wakes you up. To reduce the incidence of heartburn: Avoid coffee, alcohol, chocolate, and high-fat and highly acidic foods. Don’t eat late at night.
The pain and stiffness of arthritis often keep sufferers from sleeping well. Pain relievers and regular exercise that increase your joints’ range of motion may provide relief.
Many women experience restless sleep and early morning awakenings when they reach menopause. Women on hormone replacement therapy are less likely to experience sleeping problems.
Medications and Sleep
Ask your doctor if you any of the medications you currently take could be causing you sleep problems. If so, ask if you can change to a related drug or alter the dosage or the time you take the medication.
Online Medical Reviewer: Cunningham, Louise, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Godsey, Cynthia, MSN, APRN, MSHE, FNP-BC
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.