T’is the season of merry and many sleepless nights. Many of us who already suffer from insomnia will further wrestle with this villain this holiday season. In celebration of the end of one year and the beginning of another, we will spend without restraint, travel despite inclement weather and delayed flights and add bounties of stress to our lives.
But it is the transient loss of routine and the exponential addition of activity that will make it more difficult to relax and fall into the comfort of a good night’s sleep.
There are several types/causes of insomnia:
- Acute (adjustment) insomnia—like that associated with a new house, for example
- Inadequate sleep hygiene—doing office work on the bed
- Chronic primary insomnia—an imbalance of chemicals in the brain
- Childhood onset insomnia or life-long insomnia—cause unknown
- Pseudo insomnia—overly concerned with the lack of sleep, although one is sleeping
- Insomnia associated with a medical condition–cancer
Eggnog laced with rum, wine and spirits will not help with sleep difficulties; it will make staying asleep more difficult. Alcohol reduces the quality of sleep and causes early waking. Prescription sleep aides can lead to dependence, forces our brain to skip the steps that lead to deep sleep (not good) and should be reserved for severe cases and for short-term use.
Cindy A. Crusto PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University, encourages an inquiry to find, a possibly treatable, root cause for insomnia. Better health starts with better sleep, but poor health (or significant hormonal shifts) can result in poor sleep. Anxiety and depression are known culprits; treatment focused on these ailments may in turn lead to better sleep. Likewise, menopause, chronic pain and heart failure, for example, are associated with insomnia; treatment or better management of these types of underlying illness may improve sleep quality. Besides the link to diminished health, some people are just prone to insomnia: women, older adults, and those with a long history of sleep disturbance often have a tough time.
Once a thorough physical and mental health evaluation has been completed, other behavioral changes can be employed to attain the physical and mental relaxation that will lead to sleep. Ergo, before heading to the physician or pharmacist, here are simply tools that one can employ to fall asleep:
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine before bedtime….drink tea or listen to music to relax
- Use the bed for sleep (and sex) only….keep the bed is sacred
- Turn of the electronic devices….the emails and attendant stimulation can wait
- Don’t try to make yourself sleep….focus instead on relaxing the mind, sleep will come
- Write down the things on your mind….this tactic will help turn off the list rehearsing
- Stick to a financial plan….reduce stress over financial matters
- In a loving and honest way, say “no”….don’t inundate yourself with activity
As a new year approaches, I wish for you better days…and better nights.
Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!
Juliet M Nevins, MD MPA also contributes to BBN.com and to the NAPW newsletter.
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