Worried about losing sleep? You should be. Once dismissed as a situational malady that would eventually correct itself, chronic sleep deprivation is now seen as a major health risk.
Did you know that as few as two sleepless nights can compromise your functioning at the level that chemical intoxication can? Irritability, emotional reactivity, poor response time, compromised balance and coordination are obvious symptoms. Car accidents, relationship problems, and poor work performance often follow.
Over time, your immune system may be compromised. You’re more prone to infections and illnesses. As the problem progresses, your risk is increased for major health problems like heart disease and diabetes.
Insomnia can be caused by a number of problems. Life stressors, anxiety, depression, and other health problems are often at the root. One particularly dicey feature of insomnia is that it is often both cause and effect of mental or physical illness. (Try going without sleep for a few days and not feeling depressed or ill!)
Physicians sometimes miss the significance of insomnia during a routine exam. Patients themselves sometimes downplay the problem. Doctors may be pressed for time, or unfamiliar with the symptoms and risks. So what can you do?
If you haven’t explored lifestyle approaches, here are some to try: Set a regular bedtime and stick to it, even on weekends. Create a soothing bedtime ritual. Warm baths, warm milk, and a high protein, complex carbohydrate snack often help to induce sleep. (Avoid alcohol; while it can help induce sleep, the drop in blood sugar as alcohol metabolizes can cause late night awakening or restless nights). Keep your bedroom cool and as dark as possible, and avoid screen time one hour before retiring; computers, phones, pads, and other electronics send a wakeup call to the brain.
Make sure you get plenty of exercise, sunshine, and fresh air during the day. Exercise and sunshine help to regulate circadian rhythms in the brain, and to create the good-tired feeling with the best friend of sleep.
A number of therapeutic approaches can help. Hypnosis, guided imagery, massage therapy, and acupuncture are useful. Talk-therapy to sort out your stressors or problems may be a key. And many safe medications are available. Trust your physician to help you make a decision if you decide to go that route.