Feeling like your sleep is out of whack lately? While affected by the social constructs of when to be awake and when to be asleep, falling and staying asleep is largely guided by an internal, involuntary rhythm that guides you to rest, regulating your body temperature and functions. Sleep is essential to life – even though you are in a state of altered consciousness and virtual paralysis your body is working to build or repair systems while your brain is sorting and storing your daily activity.
Lack of sleep increases your risk of heart disease and other disorders, can cause or accelerate weight gain and negatively effect memory. Not getting enough sleep will also, in general, make you feel pretty bad.
A variety of issues can prevent you from falling asleep, or from getting restful sleep – everything from a restless mind and electronics to insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea. Some of these issues are easily remedied and others require immediate medical attention.
Insomnia is a disorder that makes it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep or both. It can be temporary and caused by stress in life or other environmental factors, or it can be chronic and persistent. The most common cause of chronic insomnia is learned insomnia that occurs because of poor sleep habits, but it is also linked to depression or anxiety, and recently, new information suggests that deficiency of a certain neurotransmitter in the brain could also be associated with chronic insomnia.
If you’re experiencing insomnia on a regular basis, try the following tips to get back on track with your sleep:
- Only lay down in bed when you’re sleepy. It might sound simple, but trying to force yourself to rest can work against you.
- Do not use the bed for anything except sleep or sex. No reading, watching TV, eating or using electronic devices.
- If it’s been 10 – 15 minutes and you’re still not asleep don’t try harder to fall asleep. Stop checking the clock over and over again. Instead, get up and go to another room.
- Create a comfortable sleep environment and bedtime routine. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every day.
- Don’t nap during the day, if possible.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, exercise and tobacco prior to bedtime.
If you consistently spend more time looking at your bedside clock than sleeping at night or you have other medical issues that are contributing to your sleeplessness, it might be time to talk to your doctor. Your physician can determine if you need a sleep study, a specialized test that may help identify many types of sleep disorders, and refer you to a sleep center.
A typical sleep study, or polysomnogram, at Tallahassee Memorial Sleep Center requires patients to stay overnight in comfortable rooms that look a lot like the bedroom of a house – we even invite you to bring your favorite blanket or pillow. These rooms, however, allow technicians to use special devices that will record several activities, including brain waves, passage of air through your nose and mouth, snoring, heart rate, oxygen levels, eye movements, chest and abdominal wall movements, and leg movements. At TMH, we also videotape each sleep study to help identify any abnormal movements that may occur during sleep.
After analyzing brain waves and movements from the study, our board certified sleep physicians can pin point the issues causing sleeplessness or sleep disturbances, treat them and get you back to bed.
David Huang, MD, FCCP, is a board certified physician in pulmonary medicine, critical care medicine and sleep medicine. He is the medical director of the Tallahassee Memorial Sleep Center.