By Dr.Anil R, Consultant Neurologist, Columbia Asia Hospital Hebbal
Do you struggle to sleep or frequently wake up in the middle of the night and lie awake for hours, you might be suffering from insomnia? Insomnia is a common sleeping condition where people find it difficult to fall asleep or they stay awake for long period of time restless in their bed or wake up frequently in between their sleep and find it difficult to go back to sleep. Insomnia can either be short term or long-term primary or secondary insomnia. Chronic sleep loss over a period can be dangerous for your health as the body needs a minimum of 8 hours sleep during which it heals itself and rests to prepare for the next day. Not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of cardio-vascular disease, stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure. However, most cases of acute insomnia are linked to poor health habits and by correcting those, it is possible to get the required amount of sleep.
Your body follows an internal body clock – if you keep a specific time to sleep and wake up in the morning, your body slowly adapts to that pattern and will do the same thing without any external motivation. Set aside a specific time every day when you retire to bed. This will help you sleep better. Ensure your sleep environment supports you to fall asleep for eg, avoid using loud colours or harsh lights in your bedroom. Try to live in a noise-free area.
Before you go to sleep, it is important that your body is not in an active state. Very often we tend to eat heavy meals an hour before we go to bed, which may hamper our sleep. The process of digestion may interrupt your ability to fall asleep and laying down could also lead to indigestion. Preferably have your meals a minimum of 2 hours before you go to sleep. Try to eat light, and protein rich food, which takes longer to digest. This way you will not have difficult falling asleep because of hunger cravings either!
Stress affects all of us daily and it is important to develop coping strategies because it can have far-reaching negative effects on our lives. When you take your stress to bed with you it can impact your sleep and worsen your mood, making your stress worse the next day and leaving you in a vicious cycle. Journaling, taking therapy sessions, channelling stressful emotions into creative work or meditation will help you manage excess stress. Severe anxiety and depression can also affect your quality of sleep, seek professional help to manage this.
Exercise is not only great for your overall health, but it also helps you sleep better. When you exercise on a regular basis, it helps improve your cardiac health, your immunity, reduces stress levels and tires you out so that you fall asleep easily. It is important to set aside a convenient time for you to exercise every-day and follow a routine even if it is for 15-30 minutes. Your body needs to burn a certain number of calories per day to maintain good health, without sufficient physical activity, it can lead to chronic ailments which may consequently impact your sleep.
Alcohol and nicotine can interrupt with the normal breathing patterns, making you have a disturbed sleep. Coffee in small amounts will not do much harm, but excessive amounts of caffeine will over-stimulate your system and make it difficult for you to fall asleep. It is best to avoid all the above four hours before you go to bed. More serious breathing disorders such as sleep apnoea can have a serious affect on the quality of sleep which will require medical intervention.
If you follow the above tips in your daily routine, your chances of achieving restful sleep will improve. If your sleep difficulties do not improve through this, it is adviced to consult your physician or a sleep specialist.