You're tossing and turning in your sleep, worried over your deadline or stressing over the kids’ exam results. And as you worry about getting some shut-eye, you find it's even harder to rest! Well, you're not alone. Studies estimate that 10 to 15 percent of the adult population has chronic sleep problems and an additional 25 percent has transient or occasional sleep problems. But with a clearer understanding of sleep patterns and helpful techniques you'll soon drift into snooze mode.
How Do We Sleep?
Sleep is like a roller-coaster ride with many valley and peaks. The peaks are about 90 minutes apart, so your sleep cycles are 90 minutes. When you go to sleep, you enter light sleep for a few minutes - this is Stage 1 sleep. You are easily awakened during this stage but feel fine.
As your sleep deepens, you enter into Stage 2, 3 and than 4. After 40 minutes in Stage 4, you're in your deepest sleep.
This deep sleep is when your body is getting its greatest rate of rejuvenation - and if you are forcibly woken, you'll feel groggy and confused. After a while in Stage 4, your sleep moves back up to Stage 3 and then 2, and you're soon on the up - slope of the roller - coaster ride. This is when your brain waves change to an active pattern similar to someone awake and looking about the room. Even as you sleep, your eyes flick around during this stage, so it's called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
There are also physical changes in heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and blood flow to the brain. This is the stage when our most active dreams occur. If you awaken now, you'll be alert and respond quickly. The first episode of REM sleep lasts five o 10 minutes, and is followed by another 90 - minute cycle. However, the subsequent dips have progressively less deep sleep, while REM sleep periods become longer. Your usual night of sleep is completed after about five of the 90 - minute cycle.
Patterns Of Insomnia
Insomnia often has a pattern to it, and this can provide important clues about what's causing your problem.
1. Sleep Onset
Trouble falling asleep is a common problem, and can be treated with good sleep practices. If you have trouble going to sleep at night and find it difficult to wake in the morning you may have delayed sleep phase syndrome, a disturbance of the body clock. Another reason some people have trouble falling asleep is restless leg syndrome, or a breathing disorder.
2. Sleep Maintenance
Some people may have no problems falling asleep but they wake often throughout the night. This causes lengthy periods of awakenings and makes them sleepy during the day. Causes include sleep apnoea, periodic limb movements in sleep and it can be made worse by alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, sleeping pills and medication.
3. Early Morning
Awakening This problem of waking up too early can be caused by a disturbance in the body clock or shift work, and can also be related to depression. Like sleep onset insomnia, it can become a habit.
4. Habitual Or “Learned"
If you fell sleepy in the living room in front of the TV, but wide awake once you get into bed, you probably have learned insomnia. Your bed has become associated with felling alert, frustrated or anxious, rather than with sleeping. This habit is not intentional but with every night your frustration increases, making the habit harder to break.
What Causes Insomnia?
Anxiety often causes insomnia. For sleep to occur, your alertness level must be low but anxiety causes increased alertness. You may be just dropping off when you hear a noise; you immediately become anxious and alert as your heart races and sleep becomes impossible. Or, a thought, such as “Did I remember to mail that important letter?" can also trigger anxiety.
Many people also have a habit of worrying in bed. Sometimes this seems to be the only time they have to themselves to think things through. To help, set aside 20 to 30 minutes of “worry time" in the evenings to think over the day's event. List your worries and what you think you could to do about them. At the end of your worry time, resolve not to think about those issues till the next day.
Some people with insomnia may have sleep apnea (disordered breathing during sleep), restless legs syndrome, periodic limb movement, nightmares, sleep walking and even narcolepsy where the person affected falls asleep frequently in the day, often without warning.
Get Your Sleep Back.
As insomnia is often caused by habits developed over time, here are ways to break them and enjoy a good night's sleep :
1. Cut Caffeine And Nicotine
Caffeine and nicotine are powerful stimulants and should be avoided by late afternoon. Most people are not aware that chocolate and chocolate - flavored drinks also contain caffeine - so beware of that tempting chocolate mudcake snack late at night.
2. Watch Your Alcohol Intake
Some people enjoy a nightcap before bed. Alcohol's initial effect is relaxation but when its effect wear off after a few hours, you'll experience mini-awakenings during the night and have disturbed sleep in the second half of the night.
3. Bedtime Ritual
Having a nightly ritual helps bring on sleep - a soothing warm bath or even cleaning your teeth can be part of a ritual, but begin only when you feel reasonably sleepy. If your body clock isn't set for sleep, you may lie awake, which makes you frustrated - this is one of the bad habits that strengthens habitual insomnia.
4. Keep Your Bed For Sleep (And Sex!)
Avoid working on your laptop in bed or having long conversations about family responsibilities with your husband. This weakens the link between the bed and sleep. The one exception is sex - the physical and psychological satisfaction it brings can improve sleep.
5. Don't Stay In Bed If You're Awake
Strengthen the link between bed and sleep by not staying in bed if you're awake. If you don't fall asleep within 15 minutes of going to bed, get up, go to another room and do something relaxing till you feel sleepy again. Don't do anything too stimulating; instead, read a magazine, watch TV or listen to soothing music. Don't get into the habit of eating at night as you're training yourself to wake up to eat; and don't be tempted to have a cigarette or caffeinated drink. Once you feel sleepy, go back to bed. If you still can't sleep, repeat the process.
The paradox with sleep is that the harder you try to do it, and the more concerned you are about it, the more elusive it is. Tell yourself that the worst that can happen if you sleep less is that you'll be sleepier the next day and likely recover some of this missed sleep the next night.
Oey Piu Hian