Tossing and turning all night is the pits. If you have insomnia, take solace that you’re not alone.
Indeed, some estimates say 60 million Americans fight sleep disturbances every year.
Not a lot is known about the mechanisms causing one to lose sleep, but experts say psychological stress, unhealthy habits and routines can exacerbate the problem. It can be caused by medication, working too much, allergies or illnesses, stress, shift work or even insomnia. That’s right; insomnia can lead to more insomnia.
“There are a lot of different factors that go into it,” said Dr. Kendea Oliver, a clinical psychologist at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, who treats patients with sleep disorders. “There is usually something that triggers an onset – anxiety or another major stressor. A change in health or schedule can also trigger it.”
The disorder can be defined as a disruption of sleep, either trouble falling asleep, waking in the middle of the night, waking too early, or not getting enough sleep.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, about 30 to 35 percent of people have brief symptoms of insomnia. About 15 to 20 percent of people have a short-term insomnia disorder, lasting less than three months.
“Sometimes it’s milder,” Oliver said. “Maybe someone had a couple nights bad sleep and then started engaging in activities that don’t help. This could be anything from watching television to having a night cap.”
But 10 percent have a chronic disorder that occurs at least three nights a week for a minimum of three months.
Poor sleep is a serious problem.
Many adults are getting less than the recommended seven hours of sleep per night. Instead, Americans are getting about 6.8 hours of sleep per night, Oliver said. Some estimates say about a third of Americans are getting less than the recommended amount.
Continued sleep shortages contribute to depression, heart disease, lowered immunity, obesity and type II diabetes.
“Sleep is super important for almost all aspects of physical and psychological health,” she said. “It regulates glucose and hunger; it plays this really important role.”
Our bodies like regularity. So, if you want to get better sleep, start by examining your bedtime routine. Going to bed when sleepy and waking up at the same time every day – even on weekends – is important, Oliver said.
Additionally, limit light in your bedroom. It’s important to avoid televisions and phones, and use your bed only for sleeping.
“One of the most important things if you can’t sleep is to get up and out of bed,” Oliver said. “Don’t just lie there because your body might start associating your bed with increased feelings of alertness from frustration or anxiety, both of which interfere with sleep.”
For more information on sleep disorders, speak with your Lahey Health physician.