Solving the Sleep Struggle
by Laurie Wertich, updated 2/2020
Sleep is a critical component to our health and one of the best coping strategies for stress. Unfortunately, when we’re stressed, our sleep is the first thing to suffer. The more stressed we are, the more sleep we skip and then a funny thing happens—the lack of sleep actually causes more stress and a vicious cycle begins.
If you’ve been riding the sleep-stress roller coaster, it’s time to stop.
The Sleep Struggle
Studies show that more than 50% of Americans don’t get enough sleep. There are many reasons for the growing epidemic of sleep deprivation. Some people are so busy that they choose to forego sleep in order to get achieve more, whereas others are so stressed that they can’t sleep.
Stress results in physiological and emotional consequences that affect sleep. Chronic stress results in increased cortisol levels, which can disrupt healthy sleep patterns. Furthermore, stress leads to over-thinking, over-scheduling, and anxiety, all of which can affect sleep.
Throw in a little caffeine and you have a perfect recipe for insomnia. If you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping soundly, try these tips for making sleep—and your health—a priority.
- Make a Sleep Plan: Make sleep a priority by creating a sleep plan for yourself. Schedule sleep just as you would schedule any other appointment—and honor it! Determine how much sleep you need and what time you need to arise and then count backwards to determine your bedtime. Be sure to allow an extra 15 minutes for your bedtime ritual so that you’re not short-changing yourself on sleep.
- Create a Bedtime Ritual: Establish a bedtime ritual for yourself. Create a calm, soothing routine that you carry out each evening. This might flow from face washing to teeth brushing to reading to writing in a gratitude journal. Find a routine that works for you and helps you achieve a state of calm.
- Maintain Good Sleep Hygiene: Sleep hygiene refers to our behavioral approaches to sleep. Our contemporary habits make it difficult to wind down. Start a “slowdown” process in the evening by turning off cell phones, computers, and televisions. Dim the lights for several hours prior to sleep. Avoid working late or other activities that will stimulate your mind.
- Set Yourself Up for Success: Create an oasis of calm in your bedroom. Invest in a quality mattress, pillows, and sheets. Make sure the room is cool and dark. Eliminate anything stimulating such as computers or bright clocks. Consider incorporating some white noise into the room with the use of a fan or noise machine.
- Avoid Stimulants: For several hours prior to bedtime, avoid anything that may interfere with sleep, including alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, exercise, and large meals.
- Make a Waking Plan: Establish a standard waking time that you adhere to daily—even on weekends. This will help train your body to stay on a sleep schedule.
- Manage Stress: Incorporate practices into your life to help manage stress. Some people find that a daily meditation practice helps alleviate stress, while others prefer yoga, tai chi, or relaxation techniques. Find something that works for you.
- Follow the 15-Minute Rule: If you can’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, get up. You may wish to try a quick yoga pose, a few minutes of meditation, or a walk around the block. Do something to take your mind off the fact that you can’t sleep—and then try again when you’re ready.
- Seek Help: If you have an ongoing struggle with insomnia, consider seeking help from a sleep expert. Often they can identify a physiological cause for sleep disruption (such as sleep apnea) and can offer many remedies, including herbal sleep aids.
Drugs to Treat Insomnia
Medications can also be used to help manage insomnia. Medications should be used in combination with good sleep practices and under the supervision of a physician. All of the following medications are taken shortly before going to bed.
Specific Sleep Medications
Zolpidem (Ambien, Edular, Intermezzo): These medicines help individuals fall asleep but often don't help them stat asleep. There is now an extended release version of Ambien that helps individuals stay asleep longer.
Eszopiclone (Lunesta): Lunesta helps individuals both fall asleep quickly, and studies show people sleep an average of 7 to 8 hours. ·
Doxepine (Silenor): Silenor blocks histamine and is approved for use in people who have trouble staying asleep.
Suvorexant (Belsomra): Belsomra blocks a hormone that promotes wakefulness and causes insomnia but often causes individuals to feel sleepy the following day.
Ramelteon (Rozerem): Works by targeting the sleep-wake cycle, not by depressing the central nervous system like many of the other medications. It is often prescribed for long-term use, and the drug has shown no evidence of abuse or dependence.
Zaleplon (Sonata): Sonata stays active in the body for the shortest amount of time which makes it useful for falling asleep but not for staying asleep.It should be noted the certain anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications can also be helpful sleep aids as can come over the counter medications. Most over the counter sleep aids are antihistamines which cause drowsiness.
Dayvigo (lemborexant): The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Dayvigo (lemborexant) for the treatment of insomnia characterized by difficulties with sleep onset and/or sleep maintenance in adult patients in January 2020.
Goodnight and good luck!