insomnia and how to avoid it

Insomnia: Tips and Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is a common and persistent sleep disorder that can be characterized by having difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. It can affect your energy levels, your mood and your health. As a result, work performance and quality of life in general can be affected as well.

Every single person has different sleep requirements, even though the majority of adults require seven to nine hours of sleep each night. So how can you tell if you have insomnia? The following are some symptoms you can look out for:

  • Experiencing difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Frequently waking up in the middle of the night, and subsequently having difficulty going back to sleep
  • Feeling tired and not adequately rested after waking up in the morning
  • Waking up too early in the morning
  • Sleepiness during the day
  • Problems with concentration or memory
  • Getting irritated or annoyed easily

Who gets Insomnia?

What most people don’t realise is that insomnia is a very common disorder. Many adults experience it at some point, but only a small proportion of these people actually realise that what they are facing is a real disorder that requires treatment or at least some adjustments in lifestyle.

To understand who gets insomnia, it is first important to note that there can be two different types of insomnia – primary insomnia and secondary insomnia.

Primary Insomnia

This means that the person is facing sleep problems that are not directly associated with any other health conditions.

Secondary Insomnia

This means that the sleep problems a person is facing can be attributed to other health conditions or personal issues, such as depression, pain or discomfort, stress, substance abuse, or even medications. It can also be due to environmental factors such as extreme temperatures (hot or cold), light or noise.

Benefits of having a good night’s sleep

When we get busy in our lives, we often sacrifice our sleeping time, staying up late or waking up early to get more work done. The importance of a good night’s sleep is often overlooked. What most people don’t realise is that getting a good night’s sleep can actually give us a host of benefits. The following are just some of these benefits:

Improved memory

When a person sleeps, his or her mind goes through a process called consolidation. During this process, memories or learnt skills are practiced and strengthened. As such, sleep improves your memory and also primes your mind for the learning of new skills.

Longer lifespans

Studies have shown that sleeping too much or too little is correlated to a shorted lifespan. In a 2010 study involving older women, it was found that there are a higher number of deaths amongst those who got less than five hours of sleep per night.

Curbed inflammation

A study found that C-reactive protein is higher in people who get less than six hours of sleep per night. This C-reactive protein has been associated with a higher risk of heart attack.

Similar research has also indicated that people who get six hours or less of sleep a night have higher levels of inflammatory proteins in the bloodstream as compared to people who get more than six hours of sleep a night. A higher level of inflammatory proteins has been linked to higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, premature aging, and a whole host of other health problems.

Sharpened attention

When we don’t get enough sleep, our attention spans suffer. A study in the journal Pediatrics discovered that children who get less than eight hours of sleep a night are more likely to be inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive.

In the case of older adults, a lack of sleep results in sluggishness and sleepiness. Our reaction times and decision making capabilities are also affected. This is why insomnia is a major cause of traffic accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, being tired accounted for the highest number of fatal single-car run-off-the-road crashes in 2009.  The figure was even higher than that of alcohol-caused road accidents!

Reduced risk of obesity

Researchers at the University of Chicago have found that dieters who are well rested tend to lose more fat than those who were sleep deprived. Even though both groups of participants shed similar amounts of total weight, it was discovered that those who were sleep deprived tend to lose more muscle mass instead of fat. It was also found that participants who got less sleep tended to feel hungry more often than those who got adequate amounts of sleep. This is because metabolism and sleep are controlled by the same portion of the brain, causing the hormones that control sleepiness to also affect our appetites.

Reduced stress levels

Getting a good night’s sleep has a positive effect on our overall well-being. One of the ways it does so is by reducing our stress levels. This leads to reduced irritability, and also a decreased risk of depression.

How does sleeping well affect depression? Well, a good night’s sleep can decrease anxiety levels, leading to greater emotional stability. This then reduces your risk for depression. Of course, oversleeping is not great for emotional stability either.

Tips for getting a good night’s sleep

If you are currently facing problems getting a good night’s sleep, don’t worry for you are not alone. Often, you just need to make some small changes in your lifestyle and habits in order to overcome the sleep disorder.

Here are some tips on how to get a good night’s sleep:

  • Switch off all electronic devices about an hour before you go to bed. This includes devices such as TVs, cell phones or computers. This is because the glow from the screen can disturb your sleep. In fact, the glow from a digital clock on your bedside table may also prove to affect your ability to fall or stay asleep.
  • Reduce the number and length of your naps during the daytime. Getting too much sleep during the daytime can affect your ability to fall or stay asleep at night. If you absolutely need to take a nap during the day, try to keep it to less than 30 minutes. Also, try to avoid napping in the afternoon or too close to bedtime.
  • Save your bedroom for sleep and sex. Try to avoid doing other activities such as work or watching the TV in bed. If you are able to do this, your body will automatically sense that it is bedtime when you get into bed.
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule. This means that you should go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day. This conditions your body to be able to fall asleep easily at the same time every day. And yes, this includes weekends. One mistake many people make is that they sleep in on weekends. This messes up your snooze-wake schedule, which contributes to Monday blues.
  • Try not to eat a heavy meal too close to bedtime. This causes your digestive system to be overloaded, which then makes it difficult for you to fall asleep. It is ideal to avoid eating at least an hour before going to bed. If you absolutely have to eat something, go for a small snack such as crackers or milk.
  • Dim your lights about 2 hours before bedtime. When the lights are dimmed, your brain is signalled to produce melatonin, which is a hormone that induces sleep. If you are doing an activity that requires some light, try to use a 15-watt or lower bulb.
  • Avoid consuming liquids within the last hour or so before bed. This reduces your odds of having to make a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night, after which it might be difficult to go back to sleep.