The National Sleep Foundation estimates that half the US population experiences occasional difficulty either falling or staying asleep at night. Persistant difficulties (more than 1 night per week) are estimated to affect about 20% of the population.
Broadly speaking, three are three types of insomnia. The first is difficulty falling asleep, which occurs when we don’t sleep within thirty minutes of hitting the pillow. The second is difficulty maintaining sleep—also known as “wide awake at 3 a.m. syndrome.” The third type of insomnia, related to the second, occurs when we feel we are awake—on and off—the whole night long.
If your insomnia problem is persistent, sleep experts agree on three simple precautions, which, if followed regularly, ought to improve your sleep.
1.) Force yourself to awaken at roughly the same time every day—even on weekends. A consistent wake-up time helps entrain your body’s biorhythms, and it prevents the “wide awake at midnight” effect caused by “sleeping in” on weekends to make up for lost sleep.
2.) Exercise regularly—even if it’s just a walk around the block. Exercise relaxes the body by causing muscles to tense and relax in a regular pattern. Muscles that already are tense are forced to move and release their residual tension. 3 days per week is the recommended minimum!
3.) Avoid alcohol 4-5 hours prior to sleep. Alcohol helps us fall asleep more quickly, but it always disturbs sleep later in the night. If you suffer from difficulty maintaining sleep during the night (insomnia type #2), alcohol consumption should be your first line of inquiry. Alcohol reduces REM and deep sleep, and causes frequent arousals in the latter part of the sleep cycle. Thirty million Americans used alcohol to “help” their sleep last month—but the results always are the same. More “wide awake at 3 a.m. syndrome!”
If you follow the above three guidelines faithfully for two weeks—and still don’t see any improvement—consider a visit to your local sleep doctor. You may have a sleep disorder that’s waking you up without your knowing it. Sleep apnea and periodic leg movements during sleep are the two most likely candidates.
For more information on insomnia, its causes, and remedies, visit the pages on this website, and also visit the home page of the National Sleep Foundation. If you follow these tips, you ought to be sleeping better soon!
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