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The Silent Sleep Epidemic

Women Restless with sleeping pills on bedside table

About 30 percent of adults live with some type of insomnia, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). Sleeping pills are the most prescribed medication in the world. Despite their popularity, evidence shows that pills aren’t effective after a few weeks of taking them.

Overall, it’s more common for women to suffer from sleeping problems than men. In research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, up to 67% of women said that they had a sleeping problem at least a few nights during the past month, and 46% had problems almost every night.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center, led by Edward Suarez, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, found that women who reported unhealthy sleep are at an elevated risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression.

There is little research to understand why women suffer from sleeplessness more than men, but there are several alternative approaches instead of using sleeping pills as the first choice. Some of these solutions include Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi) like sleep restriction therapy, sleep hygiene education (SHE), and other non-prescription over-the-counter solutions.

What is CBTi?

CBTi trains people to use techniques that address the mental (or cognitive) factors associated with insomnia, such as the ‘racing mind’, and to overcome the worry and other negative emotions that accompany the experience of being unable to sleep. It is an effective treatment for chronic sleep problems and is usually recommended as the first line of treatment.

Shouldn’t Sleep Restriction be Avoided?

Sleep restriction therapy, a version of CBTi, aims to address difficulty staying asleep through reverse logic. Limiting the amount of time spent in bed can help those struggling with sleeplessness to sleep better. The name of this method may be confusing because the goal is not to restrict sleep, but rather to restrict time spent in bed awake.

What is Sleep Hygiene?

Sleep hygiene education (SHE) refers to the establishment of good personal sleep habits. It is a behavioral therapy, which can treat insomnia, improve sleep quality, and reduce daytime sleepiness. Sleep hygiene is an applicable education strategy that takes into consideration the limited time available and economic efficiency required, especially for working women.

The basic concept of sleep hygiene is that your environment and habits can be optimized for better sleep. The ideal routine though can vary from person to person, just as any other routine would. For that reason, it’s important to test out different adjustments to find out what helps your sleep the most. It’s also important to know that improving sleep hygiene won’t always resolve sleeping problems. People who have serious insomnia or sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea may need to combine multiple forms of therapy to improve sleep.

Why Can’t I Sleep?

Certain medical conditions can exacerbate sleeping issues such as

  • Nervous system disorders, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia, can cause nighttime disorientation, wandering, and confusion.
  • Sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome (nighttime leg cramps) and sleep-disordered breathing (snoring and sleep apnea) disrupt sleep.
  • Pain can interfere with good sleep. Disorders such as arthritis, bursitis, and spinal stenosis are often associated with nighttime distress.
  • Several conditions (such as bladder problems and certain heart conditions) are associated with the nighttime need to use the toilet, which can interfere with sleep.

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Medications can also affect sleeplessness:

  • Insomnia is a side effect of many common medications, including antidepressants, antihypertensives, and anti-seizure drugs.
  • Stimulants (such as caffeine and nicotine) can interfere with falling asleep. Caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, cola drinks, chocolate, and some cold medicines.
  • Taking some medicines at night (such as water pills) may cause individuals to wake up in the middle of the night and toilet.

Emotional Disorders and stress also contribute to sleeping issues:

  • Psychological factors, such as grief, depression, and anxiety can cause sleeplessness. Psychological factors are more likely to cause insomnia than illness or medications.

Studies consistently show that lifestyle modifications and behavior changes can solve a multitude of sleep problems for most people.

  • Establish a regular time for going to bed and getting up in the morning.
  • Use the bed for sleep and sex only (not for reading, watching television, etc.) The goal is to train your mind to view your bedroom as a location for sleep and restfulness, not work or leisure.
  • Don’t eat or drink heavily at night. Heavy meals and alcohol consumption can cause indigestion and disrupt the quality of your sleep. Instead, hydrate with water and snack on light, sleep-promoting foods. Learn what foods are sleep-promoting on our latest Love Mia Vita Podcast.
  • Do something relaxing an hour before bedtime, avoiding electronics whenever possible. The blue light in electronic devices is perceived especially strongly by the receptors in your brain and interpreted as sunlight. Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and visualization can all physically relax your body and induce sleep.
  • Keep the bedroom relatively cool and well ventilated.

 Sleep impacts all components of your life. If you have difficulty sleeping or want to improve your sleep, try following these healthy sleep habits. Getting enough sleep isn’t only about total hours of sleep. It’s also important to get good quality sleep on a regular schedule so you feel rested when you wake up. If you often have trouble sleeping or if you often still feel tired after sleeping speak with your medical provider.

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