We have all experienced a night of poor sleep, perhaps triggered by a tough conversation with a colleague or loved one. It is important to know that sleep will (for most of us) not be perfect every night! Read on to find out the three major issues people struggle with, and my tips on how to solve them.
There are three general things we suffer from with sleep. First: difficulty falling asleep. Those who experience this difficulty often have a busy mind or racing heart before bed. Many individuals who are achievement-oriented or Type A personality experience this sleep difficulty regularly. Second: difficulty maintaining sleep. This is common among older men and women experience life stage changes, such as menopause. These individuals will wake up several times at night. Third: waking up too early. This is the scenario where you wake up a few hours before your normal bedtime and cannot get back to sleep. Here are a few strategies to help you with each of these difficulties:
Difficulty falling asleep
One strategy for overcoming this issue is to keep a journal or notepad next to your bed. If you find your mind is buzzing and cannot quiet down, jot down or make a list of everything on your mind. Another great strategy is progressive muscle relaxation as part of your bedtime routine. Progressive muscle relaxation is an exercise where you get in bed just before you’re ready to go to sleep, close your eyes, and clench and release muscle groups one at a time (from the toes, calves, thighs, up to the eyes and facial muscles), breathing in as you clench and breathing out as you release.
Difficulty staying asleep
First and foremost, it is quite normal to wake up once or twice from sleep to go to the bathroom. After all, 7-8 hours is a long period of time! If you have a bright alarm clock, get that out of the bedroom. It will be stressful if you wake up and see how late it is, and it will make it hard to fall back asleep. When you wake up, simply get up to do whatever it is that woke you up (eg., use the bathroom), keep the lights low, crawl back in bed, and slip back to sleep. However, if you find yourself tossing and turning, get out of bed, walk into another dark room or area of your bedroom and read a few pages of a book with a dim light on. Otherwise, try practicing meditation. It’s important to leave your bed and go back only when you are tired and ready to fall back asleep. This will allow you to fall asleep faster and your sleep quality will be improved.
Waking up too early
If you find yourself up early in the morning and cannot fall back asleep, try following the advice above. Do your best to resist the urge to get out your computer or open your cell phone. Using these gadgets will expose you to light which will make it even harder to fall back asleep. However, if it is only 1-2 hours before your normal wake up time, then it might not be a bad idea to get up and start your day.
The above general sleep complaints are absolutely common. Hopefully these strategies can be helpful if you experience these difficulties from time to time. However, it is important to know that if these difficulties are chronic (i.e., happen every night) and the above strategies are not working, you might have an actual sleep disorder that may need medical attention. There are actually 89 different sleep disorders. Insomnia, or persistent experience with one or more of the above sleep difficulties, is perhaps the most common and affects 15-20% of the population. Obstructive sleep apnea is another sleep disorder that affects about 10-12% of the population. Sleep apnea is the experience of loud snoring, but also repetitive pauses in breathing due to a collapse of the upper airway during sleep. Sleep apnea is therefore a concerning condition, so if you do personally (or have a loved one) who snores loudly and sounds as though they regularly cough or choke at night, please either speak to your healthcare provider or encourage your family member or loved one to do so.