If you have patients who list insomnia among their chief complaints, it may often be a feeling you know all too well, and one with which you can sympathize.
You’ve most likely spent your own fair share of hours staring at your alarm clock, watching the minutes and hours pass by, as you are unable to sleep. It’s not so bad if this only happens once in a great while, but if you are prone to regular, or even semi-regular, bouts of insomnia, you will gain a whole new appreciation for the suffering your patients with insomnia must endure.
According to the American Sleep Association, adults should get anywhere from seven to 10 hours of sleep per night.1 Unfortunately, a significant proportion of Americans fall rather short of that mark, with more than 35 percent reporting not even getting seven hours of sleep a night. A total of 37 percent of those between the ages of 20 and 39 don’t get enough sleep, while 40 percent of those between the ages of 40 and 49 are short on sleep.1
Furthermore, anywhere from 50 million to 70 million American adults have some type of sleep disorder, of which insomnia is the most common disorder. As many as 30 percent of adults report having short-term insomnia, and 10 percent suffer from chronic insomnia.1
Improving a bedtime routine
If you have children, you know about the importance of establishing a proper bedtime routine so that they learn how to sleep through the night in their own bed. Well, the exact same principles apply when trying to get your (or your patients’) sleep on the right track.
Set a schedule and stick to it: We all know how tempting it can be to stay up late and then sleep in on the weekends. However, you will need to set a regular time to go to bed and wake up, even on weekends to get your body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, used to a certain sleep pattern. If you deviate too much from that pattern, your circadian rhythm will be thrown off, and the cycle of insomnia can begin.
Mind your food and drink: You probably already know to avoid caffeine late at night, but you may not be aware that their effects can last four to six hours, so you probably want to set a rule of no caffeine with or after dinner. While alcohol may seem to make you sleepy, it won’t send you into restorative REM sleep, so you should limit your intake close to bedtime. Food that is overly spicy or greasy can upset your stomach, so watch how much you have for dinner, as you don’t want an upset stomach at bedtime.
Limit the bedroom to sleeping: It’s very tempting to have the bedroom be where you watch TV or work on your tablet or laptop, as well as where you sleep. Unfortunately, the danger is that you will no longer associate the bedroom with the place where you should sleep at night. Just like when you were teaching your children how to sleep in their own room, you must relearn to reserve your bedroom mainly for sleeping. Take your TV, laptop, and tablet out of the bedroom and instead try reading an actual book at night if you need a wind-down activity before going to sleep.
Stop watching the clock: We all know the saying about how a watched pot never boils. Well, the same basic principle applies to your ability to fall asleep if you keep staring at the clock. You will just get more and more frustrating with each passing minute, making it less and less likely that you will be able to fall asleep. To overcome this, you should take a cue from bird owners. To train birds to be quiet at night, owners place a towel completely over their cage to block out any view of their surroundings. Without anything to see that might stimulate their interest, the birds settle down to fall asleep. The same trick can work for you by covering your clock display with a dark colored towel. If you are unable to see the clock, you won’t obsess over how long you have been awake.
If you find yourself wide awake at 3 am, wondering what you can do to combat this problem for you and your patients, it may be time to set a proper bedtime routine so that you and your patients can catch some zzz’s instead of staring at the ceiling.
- American Sleep Association. Sleep and sleep disorder facts. Accessed May 16, 2017. https://www.sleepassociation.org/