Most of us spend a third of our lives asleep. While that may seem like a colossal waste of time, if deprived of sleep we feel less alert, irritable and easily fatigued. In time, our jobs and health may suffer. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Insomnia—the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep—has many causes. An upsetting event or the anticipation of a stressful day can cause us to toss and turn. Sometimes caffeine or alcohol is the culprit. For some people, one cup of coffee is one too many. And while drinking alcohol may put you to sleep, it prevents you from experiencing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the most restful slumber of all. Erratic hours, drug abuse and lack of exercise can also contribute to sleeplessness.
Try these alternatives to counting sheep:
- Go to bed and wake up at routine times.
- Don’t take daytime naps.
- Exercise daily—but not before bedtime.
- Eliminate environmental stimulants, like too much noise or light.
- Reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol.
- Take a warm bath before bedtime.
If those home remedies don’t work, your doctor can determine whether your insomnia is caused by a medical condition, such as sleep apnea (a disorder in which breathing is interrupted during sleep) or Cushing’s syndrome (a hormonal imbalance that can lead to heart attacks and fractures of the spine). Depression, manic-depression and schizophrenia can also disrupt a normal sleep cycle. Fortunately, newer medications are able to provide restful slumber with minimal side effects.
Like a thief in the night, insomnia robs you of something precious: the energy you need to function well physically, intellectually and socially. So if you’re not getting the rest you need, see your doctor for a referral.