Insomnia is defined as “receiving an inadequate quality or quantity of sleep.” In other words, people who suffer from insomnia may be unable to fall asleep or cannot remain asleep throughout the night. It affects all age groups, and almost a third of people experience insomnia at least once in their lifetimes. But what people may not know is that insomnia, if left untreated, can have a significant effect on the lives of those who suffer from it.
Adults generally require about seven or eight hours of sleep per night. The failure to get enough rest, especially over long periods of time, can start manifesting itself in many different ways. Insomnia can disrupt the focus or thought patterns of an individual, which could lead to lower productivity at work or school.
Of course, lack of sleep also causes sluggishness and tiredness, which can lengthen response times. This can be especially hazardous if a person is operating a motor vehicle, as many serious car crashes have resulted from a sleepy driver’s inattention or slow reactions.
Because sleep affects the entire body, the absence of it can lead to health problems like obesity or even high blood pressure. Subsequently, these problems can increase the risk of long-term illnesses, like heart disease and diabetes. Even if a person can avoid these more serious ailments, he or she is still more likely to get sick because of the effect on the body’s immune system.
When the body doesn’t get enough quality rest, its production of hormones, proteins, and other chemicals is reduced and the body itself can become inflamed. And a sleep-deprived individual is also more susceptible to psychiatric problems, such as depression or anxiety.
But insomnia and its negative effects can be curtailed and even eliminated with the practice of smart sleeping habits. This process begins with the preparation of the sleeping space itself. A person’s bedroom should be dark, quiet, and temperate when it is time to go to sleep. If it is deficient in some way, dark window shades, noise machines, and fans or extra blankets should be used to make the room suitable for sleeping. Also, the bedroom’s purpose should be limited to sleep only.
That means its occupant should avoid watching television, reading, eating, surfing the Internet, or working in bed. Restricting these superfluous activities will help train the body and brain to recognize the bedroom as a place of slumber, not activity. Individuals may even want to consider “hiding” their bedroom clocks (and turning the alarm clock so its face cannot be seen) to prevent constant time checks, which can hinder sleep.
People who struggle with insomnia should also make an extra effort to practice good sleep hygiene. First and foremost, they should set a sleep schedule and stick to it. The more rigid the hours of sleeping, the more likely the body will fall into a regular sleep routine. Adhering to the sleep schedule means not sleeping in on the weekends, staying up late at night periodically, or hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock in the mornings. In addition, sleep should take place only at night, meaning that naps should be avoided. Occasional napping can confuse the body and cause it to remain alert when night time arrives.
Good sleep hygiene also involves avoiding large meals or heavy snacks right before bedtime. This gives the body the proper amount of time to digest and process food before it can relax for the night. Similarly, the mind, like the body, should not be burdened with heavy loads when sleep is about to commence. Therefore, people should try to address their outstanding issues before going to bed, and then concentrate on positive and peaceful thoughts in order to relax the brain (techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation, visualization, or prayer can help in this regard).
Maximizing sleep quality means minimizing (or eliminating altogether) nicotine, alcohol, or caffeine in the late afternoon and evening hours. These substances trigger various responses in the body that can hinder the onset of sleep and decrease the quality of overnight slumber. Restful sleep is another good reason to exercise regularly (though not right before bedtime) because the body needs to “learn” the proper times of day to be both active and sedentary. Finally, if a person is in pain or discomfort, he or she should address the problem instead of ignoring it. Invariably, the issue will not go away, and the person will face an additional obstacle in the quest for sleep.
Following these steps can help to mitigate insomnia, which in turn will improve his or her mental and physical health. A well-rested individual is alert and focused, and is also much less likely to become irritable, agitated, or anxious. Proper sleep helps an individual reach his or her potential at work or school. And his or her interpersonal relationships will not suffer from the mood swings and short tempers that often accompany sleeplessness. So eliminating insomnia represents more than just getting the necessary sleep; it’s a ticket to better health, a stronger mind, and a tranquil spirit.