Is Insomnia Wreaking Havoc on Your Health?
We may take our sleep for granted without realizing the importance it has on our overall health. Quality sleep in a sufficient amount plays a part in our mental health, physical health, sense of well-being and even our safety. But what happens when we don’t get enough?
We know that children need sleep for growth and development, as well as learning. Adults who have sleep problems are also impacted in learning new skills, as well as performance. The negative impact of too little sleep extends to problems with immunity, the mood, reaction times when performing a skill, and can also lead to some chronic diseases.
According to Perkins (“Getting a Good”, n.d.), some common sleep problems involve falling asleep, maintaining sleep, or being bothered by early awakenings. Insomnia can be episodic or become a chronic concern. Some possible causes are: chronic pain, anxiety, depression, stress, jet lag, shift work, hot flashes or an environment that does not support sleep.
The consequences of poor sleep over time are noted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as affecting people in various ways:
The brain- difficulty in learning new material, problem -solving, decision-making
Mood- both adults and children can have problems getting along with others
Healing, repair, and the immune system are slowed down
Appetite- your appetite increases and can lead to weight gain
Chronic health problems- can lead to a higher blood pressure, blood sugar, and risk of a stroke
Safety- with just 1-2 hours of sleep lost, there is a risk of reduced alertness, and this also
may lead to “microsleep”, such as “zoning out” for a few minutes during the daytime
We have all heard the recommendations for sleep, and need to find ways to make this a priority for optimal health. Adults need 7-9 hours, and teens need 9-10 hours. So, what changes can you make to promote good sleep? Harvard Health Publications (2015) mention the following lifestyle changes:
Avoid tobacco and alcohol- tobacco is a stimulant. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but
It is metabolized in a few hours, and usually results in waking up 3-4 hours later
Exercise- those who exercise fall asleep faster, and sleep longer. Aerobic exercise in the
morning, or performed at least 3 hours before bedtime is best. Yoga, Tai Chi and
meditation might be helpful in the evening
Sleep hygiene- this involves maintaining the same schedule for bedtime throughout
the week, including weekends. Limit naps on the weekend to 20-30 minutes.
The bedroom should only be used for sleeping and sex. Control the environment
for temperature (cool), and light (low lighting for reading). Avoid television, or other
“screen time” such as computers and smartphones, since this can also interfere
with settling in to the bedtime routine.
Relaxation- some feel that meditation, yoga, calming music or progressive muscle
relaxation is helpful.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy- meeting with a psychologist to learn strategies for better
If insomnia becomes chronic or impacts the quality of your life, see your nurse practitioner (or PA/MD/DO) to evaluate the cause and find a treatment that fits your needs. There are medications that might be helpful for severe chronic insomnia. However, for long-term health,it is more important to find the cause of the sleep problem and address it accordingly.
Perkins, K. (n.d.) Getting the good night’s sleep that your body and mind need. Retrieved from http://www.cooperaerobics.com/Healt-Tips/Vtamin-Aisle/A-Good-Nights-Sleep-Is-Closer-Than-You-Think.aspx.
Sleep and mental health (2015. Harvard Health Publications: Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsleter_article/Sleep-And-Mental-Health
Why Is sleep important (2012, February). National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why.