What is Insomnia?
We’ve all been there at one point or another: lying awake worrying about day-to-day problems, tossing and turning, or for whatever reason just not being able to fall asleep. Or just as bad, waking up in the middle of the night and experiencing the same thing.
Or maybe you wake up in the morning feeling more tired than refreshed, which keeps you dragging throughout the day. This happens to all of us at one point or another, and it’s normal to experience sleepless nights from time to time.
However, it shouldn’t be something that’s occurring on a regular basis. As it turns out, even though most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep each night, more than 1 in 3 American adults say they don’t get the recommended amount of sleep – that’s bad enough.
But when sleeplessness occurs on a regular basis over an extended period of time, it’s classified as chronic insomnia – and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it affects one out of 10 people in the US. (1)
This condition can lead to some pretty serious health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart attack, obesity, and depression. On top of that, people who are sleep-deprived are also more likely to be involved in motor vehicle accidents, work-related injuries and other potentially dangerous mishaps. (2)
So let’s take a look at some commonly-held beliefs about insomnia to see exactly what holds water and what’s just a load of BS.
1. Drinking Alcohol Will Help You Sleep
Not true. Chronic insomnia can definitely leave you desperate for catching some shut-eye, but if you’re considering knocking back a few before bedtime in order to sleep well you should reconsider. The fact is, alcohol actually can help you fall asleep, but as your body works hard to metabolize the cocktails you downed, you’ll likely end up having restless sleep, awakening in the middle of the night, or otherwise waking up much earlier than you’d planned.
2. Insomnia Is All In Your Head
Not really. While there’s no doubt that psychological factors can contribute to insomnia (stress is actually the number one cause of sleep loss), it’s definitely not the only reason. There are many physical reasons attributed to sleeplessness, including medical conditions, illness, sleep apnea, chronic pain, drug side-effects, and even personal hygiene.
3. Exercising Helps You Sleep Better
This one’s a Fact. Regular exercise is a proven way to promote deep, restful sleep. However, avoid exercising too close to bedtime because then it could have the exact opposite effect, making you more alert and elevating body temperature. So try to give yourself at least two or three hours between workouts and bedtime.
4. Watching TV Before Bed Helps Wind You Down
Nope. It might seem only natural to engage in passive activities like watching TV or surfing the internet before calling it a day, but doing this can actually stimulate you. Your brain may actually get keyed-up from the light and sound from electronic devices, which in turn reduces melatonin levels (melatonin is a hormone that helps you sleep and should increase towards bedtime).
Much better would be to read a book, or listen to some soft music to help you drift off – just make sure to turn the screens off.
5. Sleeping Supplements Are Safe
Not exactly. It is true that sleeping medications these days tend to be much safer than in the past, but there are still potential risks involved with taking them, including a possibility of dependency. While sleep medications can temporarily help with insomnia, they aren’t a cure.
Before taking any sleep supplements, discuss your situation with a physician to help determine the underlying cause of your insomnia.
6. You Can Make Up For Lost Sleep
Wrong. Sleep doesn’t really work that way, and once you’ve lost it you can’t get it back. You can sleep in late on the weekends to help offset some of your lost sleep, but this may actually screw up your body’s internal clock making it that much harder to get to sleep once the work week starts again.
Studies have shown that the best thing to do is maintain a regular, consistent sleeping pattern.
7. Taking Naps Helps Counter-Act Insomnia
No. Taking naps does different things for different people. Typically, taking a short 10 to 20 minute nap in the afternoon can have a refreshing effect. However, for many insomnia sufferers, taking naps can actually reduce your brain’s urge to sleep, effectively making it even more difficult to catch some z’s later at night.
8. You Can Train Your Body to Need Less Sleep
Myth. This is a misconception that can lead to serious problems if you buy it. Everyone needs a certain amount of sleep, usually in the 7-8 hour range. No doubt, you can definitely function with less sleep, but you can’t condition your body to actually need less sleep.
Being chronically sleep-deprived can wreck your health, reduce performance of even simple tasks and increase your risk of accidents.