Monday, May 10, 2010

5 common reasons for insomnia — and 6 tips to help you sleep better

Cindy Brumm takes care of a lot of things in our office. In today’s blog, she offers way for us to take care of ourselves, too.

We live in a chronically stressed society and often lie awake at night, “to do” lists running through our heads.  Cultural norms have us believing that we need to be constantly productive and on the move, and that sleep is for sissies.  Unfortunately, our bodies weren’t built for non-stop action, and restful sleep is our best tool for distressing and healing our bodies and minds, and boosting our immune systems.

Experts like Dr. Frank Lipman, author of REVIVE: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again (2009), estimates that as many as 70% of Americans suffer some sort of sleep deprivation.   Even mild deprivation can interfere with our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms and result in serious health issues, if prolonged.  High blood pressure, heart attacks, hormone imbalance, diabetes, depression and even weight gain can be correlated with sleeplessness, as can a loss in productivity, lack of attention to detail, and impaired motor skills.

What causes poor sleep?  Many factors can contribute, but a few common reasons for insomnia include:
  • Too much stress, which sends our nervous system into overdrive
  • An unhealthy diet, especially one heavy in stimulants (caffeine, alcohol), processed foods, fat and sugar
  • Gastrointestinal issues, like acid reflux (often caused by stress and/or fatty and acidic foods)  
  • Breathing problems, including sleep apnea 
  • Chronic pain
While drugs are available to help alleviate insomnia, it’s best to identify causes of sleep loss and adjust habits and behaviors first.  

There are many tips to help you sleep better – here are a few simple ones that can yield big results, if practiced consistently:
  1. Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption, including colas, teas and chocolate. And watch your sugar intake. If you must indulge, try to do so at least 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
  2. Double-check medication side effects with your physician.  Some drugs, especially those for blood pressure, asthma, depression, and allergies, can cause sleeplessness.
  3. Go for a walk in the sunshine.  Now that spring is here, get out in the fresh air and sunlight.  Not only will the exercise help your body relax and loosen up, but the sunshine will help you build up natural amounts of vitamin D, which also boosts your energy levels.  (This is especially important because many of us work inside under artificial light.) 
  4. Turn off the news.  You don’t need to absorb the world’s problems right before bed.  If you need a news fix, Tivo it and watch it in the morning.
  5. Set a regular routine.  Keep your room cool, dark, and quiet, and go to bed around the same time every night.
  6. Just breathe.  Yes, sounds simplistic, but taking time to focus on your breath can make a difference.  During the workday, try to take a couple of 5 minute breathing breaks to relieve stress.  In the evening, set aside 5-15 minutes of “quiet time” at the end of each day for deep breathing.  By focusing on your breath, you help your mind and body slow down and relax which, in turn, can help you fall asleep faster and rest more fully.  An easy breathing exercise: breathe in for 4 counts, and exhale for 4 counts.  Just focus on the breath and let your thoughts go.  It’s okay – you’re worth the 15 minutes.
Tweaking some of your habits doesn’t cost a thing.  I’ve noted 6 habit-busters above.  Why not pick 2 and give them a try?  You may just find that you’re sleeping better and have more energy than ever.  

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