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By The Mouse Potato | October 25, 2006
As much as one-third of the nation’s population suffers from sleep disorders. The leading cause of sleep disorders is emotional turmoil, causing us to experience such sleep-related problems as insomnia, nightmares, and difficulty sleeping through the night. If you’re having trouble sleeping, there are steps you can take toward finally achieving the relief of more rest-filled nights.
There are a variety of ways to treat sleep disorders. While over-the-counter medications are often used and can be beneficial for some people, leading sleep experts caution that, for many, such sleep aids can end up causing more problems than they solve.
If your sleep problems persist, if you find you have trouble concentrating, or if lack of sleep interferes with your regular routine, you may consider seeking relief by getting help from a sleep specialist or mental health professional.
Suggestions for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
**Follow a regular schedule–go to sleep and get up at the same time each day.
**Avoid taking cat-naps during the day.
**Try to exercise at regular times each day. Moderate physical activity 2 to 4 hours before bedtime may improve your sleep.
**To adjust your internal sleep clock, try to get some exposure to the natural light in the afternoon each day.
**Eat smart, avoid heavy dinners, and don’t eat too close to bedtime.
**Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages late in the day–caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake.
**Refrain from drinking alcohol close to bedtime or in an effort to help you sleep. Drinking even small amounts of alcohol can make it harder to stay asleep.
**Smoking in an effort to help you sleep can have the opposite effect since nicotine is a stimulant.
**Do something pleasurable before bedtime to help you unwind and get your mind off the day’s responsibilities and nagging concerns.
**Take a relaxing shower or bath before bedtime and, if you like to use fragrances, consider using lavender scented body soaps, lotions or oils for its naturally calming effect.
**Avoid over-stimulation before you go to bed. And only go to bed when you’re actually tired. Don’t try to force yourself to sleep, instead get up and “do something boring” then head back to bed.
**Be especially thoughtful about what end-of-the-night TV shows you watch and your bedtime reading selections. Avoid content that focuses on issues that are disturbing or that dwell on a topic that’s currently causing you to feel concerned, worried, threatened, or afraid.
**Listen to music you especially enjoy at bedtime. Play it at a low volume and make sure to select music with especially soothing rhythms and calming lyrics.
**Consider purchasing an acoustic “nature sounds simulator relaxation machine” (typically under $20. at certain pharmacies, or stores like Target). Settings for such sounds as “Spring rain,” “mountain stream,” “ocean waves,” and “”summer night” can help relieve end-of-the-day stress and act as a natural sleep aid.
**Create a safe and comfortable sleeping environment. Make sure there are locks on all doors and smoke alarms on each floor. A lamp that’s easy to turn on and a telephone by your bedside may be helpful. In addition, the room should be dark, well ventilated, and have all nonessential sounds blocked out.
You’ll Gain Much More Than Just a Good Night’s Sleep
If, despite your efforts to “set the stage” for a good night’s sleep, your problem persists, seeking professional help may provide you with the relief you’re looking for. You have a lot more to gain than restful sleep and a more peaceful emotional state. Virtually everything you can do to improve your sleep also benefits your health by significantly reducing your risk of depression, anxiety disorders, heart attack, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and similar ailments and diseases.
Types of Sleep Disorders
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. Insomnia means inadequate or poor-quality sleep caused by one or more of the following:
**taking a long time to fall asleep (more than 30 to 45 minutes)
**waking up many times each night
**waking up and being unable to get back to sleep
**waking up too early in the morning
Insomnia can be caused by stress, environmental noise, extreme temperatures, change in the environment, medication side-effects, or sleep/wake schedule changes like jet lag.
Sleep apnea refers to repeated episodes of no breathing for at least 10 seconds during sleep (apneic episodes). The most common symptoms are loud snoring while asleep and excessive sleepiness during the day.
Sleep apnea usually is caused by blockage (obstruction) in the nose or mouth (upper airway). Blockage may be caused by defects of the nose, larger-than-average soft tissues in the throat, or enlarged tonsils and adenoids.
Sleep apnea may also be caused by abnormal electrical signals from the brain to the muscles used to control breathing. The cause of this type of apnea (central sleep apnea) usually is unknown.
A doctor specializing in sleep disorders can make a definite diagnosis and recommend treatment. A wide range of treatments are available, including gadgets that help you stay off your back when sleeping, medication, and surgery.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes sudden sleep attacks which may occur during any type of activity at any time of day. These sleep attacks can occur several times a day and may last from a few minutes to several hours. A person may fall asleep while engaged in an activity such as eating dinner, driving the car, or carrying on a conversation.
Narcolepsy usually starts during the teen years or early adulthood and can continue throughout life. Medications may be used to help prevent sleep attacks and episodes of muscle weakness, however, the disorder rarely goes away completely.
Restless Leg Syndrome (also called nocturnal myoclonus)
People with restless legs syndrome have a feeling of discomfort, aching, or twitching deep inside their legs. Jerking movements may affect the toes, ankles, knees, and hips. Moving the legs or walking around usually relieves the discomfort temporarily.
Restless legs syndrome frequently causes sleep problems, such as insomnia and unrestful sleep, because the symptoms most often occur while the person is asleep or is trying to fall asleep. The twitching or jerking leg movements may wake a person up.
The cause of restless legs syndrome is often not known. Antidepressants and certian other medications can sometimes cause restless legs syndrome. It may also develop as a result of pregnancy or iron-deficiency anemia.
Parasomnias are undesirable physical activities that occur during sleep involving skeletal muscle activity, nervous system changes, or both. Sleep can be difficult for people who experience parasomnias as it can cause odd, distressing, and sometimes dangerous nighttime activities. While “asleep,” a person with parasomnia may walk, scream, rearrange furniture, eat odd foods, or even wield a weapon.
Parasomnias have medically explainable causes and are most often treatable.
Sleep and Aging
The normal sleep cycle consists of two different kinds of sleep–REM (rapid eye movement or dreaming sleep) and non-REM (quiet sleep). Everyone has about four to five cycles of REM and non-REM sleep a night. For older persons, the amount of time spent in the deepest stages of non-REM sleep decreases. This may explain why older people are thought of as light sleepers.
Although the amount of sleep each person needs varies widely, the range usually falls between seven and eight hours a night. While these individual requirements remain fairly constant throughout adulthood, aging does reduce the amount of sleep you can expect to get at any one time.