Tired No More! Advice on how to beat your most exhausting and frustrating bedtime problems

In theory, getting a good night’s sleep is simple: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, exercise regularly, skip caffeine and booze late at night and ban T.V. from your bedroom as well as any screen time prior to sleep. These tips can certainly help set you up to get 7-9 hours of sleep your brain and body requires for optimal health and performance. Of course, if you have trouble snoozing and have tried all the tips outlined without success, the following more customized information may relieve your problem.

YOU CAN’T STAY ASLEEP – Jodie, 43, could go out like a light every night.  “Then I’d wake up at 2 a.m, often sweating, and stay up.”  Michael J Breus, PhD, author of Good Night: The sleep Doctor’s 4-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health, coined the term mommysomnia for new mothers awakened by their babies’ cries, but he also uses it to describe being up due to any external sleep disruption – like a too hot room or the cat climbing on your head in the middle of the night. Wake ups can also be prompted by things you ate or drank, certain drugs, underlying medical conditions, or stress.

SMART SOLUTIONS: It’s natural to wake up in the middle of the night, especially in between the deeper stages of sleep.  Don’t panic if your eyes open – doing so will just keep you from drifting back to sleep. 
Next; assess the effect waking up is having on you.  “The perfect 8 hour sleep is a myth,” says Breus.  “The question is, are you getting enough for you?”  Yes, the average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep, but if you’re functioning fine on fewer hours (without needing vats of coffee), your requirements are less than the predicted average. If you’re not feeling rested, then note what’s happening when you wake up at night.  “Make sure you’re not tricking your body into thinking it’s time to get up,” says Breus. For instance, by peeking at the clock, checking your e-mail or turning a light on.  If wake ups coincide with specific noises or events (such as the heat clicking on or the sun rising), neutralize them by getting a white noise machine or blackout shades.

Jodie consulted her doctor when she couldn’t solve the problem on her own.  Tests revealed that she had low levels of progesterone, which can disrupt sleep.  Using a progesterone cream alleviated her night wake-ups. “It was a big relief,” she says.

YOU CAN’T FALL ASLEEP – Irene used to lie in bed for hours as her mind raced.  “The thoughts weren’t clear, but the feelings were – stress, worry about the future and work,” says the 46 year old mother of 2.  Some 75% of Breus’ patients day they can’t switch off their brains at night – no surprise to any of you who shoot off emails and brainstorm to-do lists even after your head has hit the pillow. 

SMART SOLUTIONS: Get a handle on anxiety by booking “worry/planning time,” suggests Sonia Ancoli-Israel, PhD, director of the Gillin Sleep and Chronomedicine Research Center at the University of California in San Diego. Designate 15 minutes at the same time every day and not too close to when you go to bed, for addressing the issues that hijack your thoughts at night - What still has to be done on the renovation? Did I pay the phone bill? “You’re reconditioning your brain to think about these things away from bedtime,” says Ancoli-Israel. “For 80% who try this, it works.” Then when you do hit the pillow, practice mental distraction techniques like counting backward from 300 by threes (really!). 

You might also consider trying cognitive behaviour therapy, in which you learn crucial ways to change your sleep habits for the better.  CBT was deemed to be the first line of treatment for sleep-onset insomnia (that is, trouble falling asleep) in a recent Harvard medical School study. 

Inability to fall asleep can also be a body clock issue. Our circadian rhythms depend on natural light in the morning. If we don’t get enough, that can keep us from feeling tired later.  To help reset your circadian rhythms, buy a light box – look for one with a brightness of at least 5,000 lux, says Ancoli-Israel – and sit in front of it for 30 minutes each morning.

NOTE: Medication should be considered a last resort.  There’s nothing wrong with using an over-the-counter sleep aid once in a while, Breus says. But if it takes you longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep three nights a week for three weeks, that’s insomnia, and you should see a doctor to get the best, safest treatment for you.

By changing the way Irene reacted to her worries (for instance she now avoids having stressful conversations right before bedtime), helped her situation.  Plus, “I learned to give in to my body’s first wave of fatigue instead of staying up,” she says.  “It has made a huge difference.”

YOU OFTEN FEEL EXHAUSTED AFTER A FULL NIGHT IN BED – A year ago, Jennifer woke up in the middle of the night choking. “I literally couldn’t catch air,” says the 44 year old mother of two.  Even when she didn’t wake, she often snored loudly enough to disturb her husband and felt groggy in the morning.  A Google search suggested she might have sleep apnea – a disorder in which the throat muscles relax, causing your airway to collapse or get blocked by your tongue.  You stop breathing for 10 seconds or more, possible hundreds of times a night. 

After an overnight stay at a sleep lab, Jennifer was diagnosed with apnea which affects half of the women ages 20-70 in a 2012 study.  Apnea puts you at higher risk for heart disease and diabetes, and daytime drowsiness. 

SMART SOLUTIONS: Always sluggish? Dr. Kohler, MS, medical director of the Sleep Institute in Florida, suggests you keep a log of what you did during the day and whether you woke up tired.  You might learn that you don’t sleep as well after watching high drama and action movies but feel invigorated the morning after a spin class. 

If you snore or wake up with a headache or dry mouth, you could have sleep apnea.  Treatments range from low-tech-raising the back of your bed by 2 inches or sleeping on your side- to wearing an oxygen mask called a CPAP or a dental device that repositions your jaw and tongue to keep the airway open.  Losing weight also helps alleviate, and even eliminate, the problem.

Jennifer now wears a dental apparatus when she seeps.  “It’s not super uncomfortable,” she admits, but she hasn’t had a choking attack since then, and she says, “I feel great.”

That’s the ultimate goal, whichever of these treatments work for you.

Source -Aviva Patz

Susan Arruda