What is insomnia?
Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Those who experience insomnia usually also experience fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and decreased performance in work or at school. Insomnia can be acute or chronic (at least 3 nights a week for more than 3 months).
What is a normal sleep cycle?
Our sleep consists of 5 stages – 1,2,3,4, and REM (Rapid Eye Movement). We spend about 50% in Stage 1, 30% switching between the other stages, and 20% in REM. A complete cycle takes about 90-110 minutes.
Stage 1 is light sleep and we are easily awakened during this time. Stage 2 we begin to fall deeper in to sleep and brain waves slow. During Stage 3 and 4 we are in a much deeper sleep and waking is difficult. Finally once we reach REM our bodies become paralyzed, heart rate and blood pressure increase and eyes begin to move rapidly. If we are awakened in this stage, patients often describe illogical thoughts and dreams.
If we are short on REM one night, our bodies try to make up for it the next night by going into REM much quicker and potentially skipping some of the earlier stages.
How much sleep do we really need?
Research shows adults need 7-8 hours of sleep, teenagers need 9 hours, and pregnant women in the first trimester tend to need more than the normal adult.
Think of sleep like a bank: unpaid money debts must be collected, in the same way that unpaid sleep debts must be made up. Our bodies do not just “adapt” to functioning on less sleep without consequences.
Medications that can worsen sleep
- Nicotine – stimulant, causes light sleep and decreased REM
- Caffeine – stimulant that can stay in the body for up to 8 hours. Study found that patients drinking 4 or more cups of coffee/caffeinated drinks per day reported a symptoms of insomnia more often than those consuming 0-1.
- Cold and flu medications containing decongestants
- Alcohol- initially a sedative, but later in the night can disrupt your sleep cycle making it difficult to reach REM or deep sleep
- Anti-depressants – decreased REM
Sleep habits of highly effective sleepers
- Avoid eating large meals late in the evening
- Set a schedule: go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
- Exercise most days of the week
- No television, computers or phones in the bedroom.
- Avoid naps as they can throw off our normal sleep-wake cycle
- Keep the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet
- Do not lay in bed if you cannot sleep, get up until you are tired again, but no TV or internet during this time!
Still not enough? Try these supplements and techniques to promote calm and improve sleep
- Melatonin – resets sleep cycles and increases drowsiness
- Get 15 minutes of exposure to sunlight in the morning
- Diphenhydramine or Doxylamine – increase drowsiness
- Valerian root – promotes calm
- Get an aloe plant for your bedroom – increases oxygen supply while you sleep
- Wear sleep mask to keep out light
- Use ear plugs to muffle outside noises
- Lavender essential oils – for relaxation
- Fisher Wallace Stimulator – FDA cleared medical device to treat insomnia
- Drink herbal tea before bed to promote calm
- Magnesium – shown to relax muscles and promote calm