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Categories > Sleep Disorders > Insomnia

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Different kinds of sleeplessness

Transient insomnia—up to a few nights of poor sleep—is often triggered by a specific event, such as the first day at a new job or an exam, or by a physical ailment, such as a bad cold, headache, backache, sore muscles or jet lag.

Short-term insomnia—two or three weeks of poor sleep—often develops during periods of ongoing stress, such as moving, financial difficulties, divorce, the death of a loved one or a job search.

Long-term insomnia—poor sleep every night, most nights or several nights a month—is sometimes caused by environmental factors such as living on a noisy street or working a night shift. But it can be a symptom of a more serious medical problem, so it’s important to discuss it with your healthcare provider.

For some people, getting to sleep is the biggest challenge of the day. What’s worse, night after night of tossing and turning take a cumulative toll, impairing judgment and memory, sapping mental skills and pretty much fouling a person’s mood.

But insomnia doesn’t have to be a way of life. Often, making some changes in your daily routine can promote sound sleep. Try these tips for easing into slumber.

Don’t worry … at bedtime, anyway. If troubles are keeping you up nights, set aside a worry time—say, the half hour after dinner—to write down your problems and list possible solutions.

Act up … but not within five hours of bedtime. Regular physical activity is linked to restful sleep. The best time for a good workout is late afternoon.

Lay off caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine makes it harder to get to sleep; alcohol makes it harder to stay asleep.

Let your body know it’s time for bed. Even adults need a bedtime routine. Try taking a bath, reading, listening to music or doing relaxation exercises to send your brain the sleeping signal.

Keep a sleep schedule. This is a tough one, especially on weekends. But going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day is a good way to program your body for regular sleep.

Don’t force yourself to stay in bed. If sleep doesn’t come within 20 minutes, distract yourself. Leave the bedroom and read, watch TV or pay the bills. Keep your eye off the clock to keep anxiety low, and go back to bed only when you feel drowsy.

Reserve the bed for sleeping. The more wide-awake time you spend in bed—eating, talking on the phone, watching TV or reading—the harder it may be to fall asleep. Lying back on a fluffy pillow should be one of your body’s automatic ready-to-sleep cues.

Add a little noise. White noise, such as that produced by a whirring fan, a staticky radio or specially made tapes or CDs, can help lull you to sleep.

Check your medications. Some drugs can cause sleeplessness, so read labels and literature and ask your doctor or your pharmacist how a medication might affect your sleep.

Create the right environment. Your pillow and mattress, as well as the temperature of your bedroom, should be conducive to getting a good night’s rest. If barking dogs, car alarms or your partner’s snoring are a problem, invest in a pair of earplugs. If the morning light bothers you, wear a sleeping mask.

If these tips don’t work, discuss the problem with your healthcare provider. Insomnia can be a sign of an underlying physical problem.


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