Question: I wake up in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep. I’ll end up going to the laundry room and ironing clothes, washing the floor or some other task before I go back to bed. This happens two to three times a night. My husband is concerned, although the other morning he told me that if I was going to keep this up, I should at least wash his car? — Diana, of Celina
Diana! Please tell your husband it is not a good idea to wash the car at night. Night is meant for sleeping. It seems you have a sleep problem. It is a quite common problem, and millions of people have it. People with insomnia have trouble falling or staying asleep and they do not feel rested when they wake up. Insomnia is not about the number of hours of sleep a person gets because everyone needs a different amount of sleep. Children need more sleep; they grow during sleeping hours. Most adults need seven hours of good quality sleep. Older folks need less sleep.
If you do not get enough good sleep, it may make you feel tired during the day. Poor sleep may cause some people to develop forgetfulness and get anxious. Others lose the freshness of the mind and they lose productivity and have poor work performance. It may affect school performance in students.
You may have to try to practice good sleep hygiene to ensure good sleep.
The body works best when we learn and enact good habits. You may try going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. Create a relaxing bedtime ritual, such as taking a warm bath, reading or listening to relaxing music or prayer.
I note that you get up and do something when you cannot sleep. Lot of people do it.
You may want to pay attention to what you consume during the day. Certain amino acids help calm the mind. There is some truth to the old wisdom of drinking a cup of milk at bedtime. Milk is rich in some amino acids that calm the mind. Avoid stimulants in the evening. Avoid large meals and beverages just before bedtime. Stimulants like caffeine-containing foods may be consumed only during the morning. Some people think alcohol helps sleep. On the contrary, it is a stimulant and should not be used as a sleep aid. Even though alcohol makes you sleepy at first, it disrupts sleep later in the night. Cigarettes with nicotine do not help. Nicotine has a stimulant effect also. It releases adrenaline. I find some people watch TV before they go to sleep. Many TV programs keep your brain stimulated, which does not help a good sleep.
The room where you sleep may have to be kept dark, cool, quiet and free of reminders of work or other things that may cause you stress.
There can be different causes of stress. Did you move to a new unfamiliar environment, have a new job or joined a new school? Work deadlines or impending examinations can cause worry and take away your sleep. Deaths of relatives or close friends cause you to lose sleep. Chronic pain is a quite common cause of sleeplessness.
Stress can cause anxiety and affect sleep. Try to solve problems you have before you go to bed. Many times, it is not possible to solve the problems that cause stress. There is wisdom in the saying, “Don’t go to sleep mad.” It will not let you sleep. But if you cannot, you may try to change yourself and change how you react to stress. Daily yoga exercises and meditation is known to help you relax and calm your mind.
Stress can also be reduced by regular exercise. But it is not a good idea to exercise before bedtime.
These days many people are glued to the phone or computers till late at night. Avoid looking at phones or reading devices that give off light before bed. This can make it harder to fall asleep.
Disruptions in circadian rhythm may cause insomnia. The body has an internal clock. Different hormones rise and fall during certain times of the day. Stress hormones are lowered by around 9 p.m. They rise early in the morning. It is a good idea to be in sync with the internal clock. If we train our body to go to sleep early and rise early in the morning, the body works best and you may sleep better.
Relaxation therapy at bedtime can help. One routine that can be tried goes like this. When you lay in the bed with closed eyes, you may want to focus your mind on the warmth you feel in the nostrils as you breathe in and out. This may calm the mind and prepare you to sleep. As you practice calming the mind you may try to think of different muscles of the body, starting from your feet up and relax them one group at a time with each breath.
Difficulties in a relationship can affect your sleep. Working with a counselor or psychologist to deal with the problems that might be causing poor sleep may be needed.
Should you see a doctor? Yes. If you have persistent insomnia, and it is troubling you, see your doctor. He or she might have suggestions on how to fix the problem. You may need some medicine or over the counter product. Insomnia is sometimes caused by mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety. If that is the case for you, you might benefit from an antidepressant rather than a sleep aid. Antidepressants often improve sleep and can help with other worries, too.
I hope your sleep improves and tell your husband to wash the car on the weekend or when he is back from work.
Suman Kumar Mishr MD, FACE, Cridersville.