Did you know that an estimated 25 percent of Americans report receiving insufficient sleep nearly half of the nights in a week? Many of us don’t sleep enough simply due to lifestyles that focus on work and leisure to the point that we exclude sleep. We may spend too much time at work, watching television or tending to daily chores to put aside sufficient time for a good night’s sleep. A subset of us also struggle with insomnia, which is the most-common sleep disorder. When we do lay down to rest, we are unable to fall asleep despite having the time to do so. Of course, a lack of sleep can impact everything from your work, to your home life to your overall health, so whether you have a full-blown sleep disorder or just have trouble getting sufficient rest, it may be time to look into some solutions.
Psychiatrist Dr. Julia Wood from Blount Memorial Parkway Psychiatric Service says sleep is a big topic of discussion in her office. “As a psychiatrist I spend a lot of time talking about sleep with my patients,” she said. “Sleep disorders or insufficient sleep can be serious problems. Chronically poor sleep is associated with a number of risk factors including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Improving one’s sleep habits can be helpful in improving one’s health. However, a medication solution for sleep is not likely to lower your risk of the negative health outcomes associated with poor sleep,” she explained. “Additionally, sleeping medications can have significant risks,” she added.
Wood says before resorting to a sleep medication, there are steps you can take to improve your sleep. “First, keep the same bedtime and wake up time every day – including on weekends,” she said. “Stick to this schedule even if you are up a lot in the night or don’t fall asleep until very late. Second, develop rituals before bedtime. Try to ‘move toward calm’ by dimming the lights, cleaning your teeth, dressing for bed, turning down the covers and saying your prayers in the same order every night. Basically, you want to create some ‘sleep associations’ that cue your brain that it is time to sleep,” she explained. “Helpful sleep associations can include listening to relaxing sounds, such as nature sounds, or a meditation CD as you’re lying in bed. It also may help to pair a scent with your bedtime, such as lavender. Diffuse the scent in the room or spray a pillow spray on your sheets. Make sure it’s a calming scent that you don’t smell at other times of day,” she added.
“Third, make the bed as comfortable and calm as possible,” Wood continued. “Use the bed only for sleep. Do not read, watch television, talk on the phone or play on the computer in bed. Fourth, avoid daytime napping. Fifth, avoid substances that may interfere with sleep, including large meals before bed, too much liquid close to bedtime, caffeine, alcohol or nicotine. Sixth, exercise regularly. And finally, if you do awaken overnight, try to get back to sleep immediately, do not look at the clock. Stay physically drowsy, and be mindful in a sleepy manner,” she explained. “If you cannot get back to sleep within 10-15 minutes, get out of bed and do something calm. Do not turn on lights or do anything active. Just relax in the dark,” she added.
Wood says if these tips don’t do the trick, you should consult a doctor before considering a sleep medication. “Seek out a course of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia,” Wood said. “There are psychologists in the area who offer this treatment, as well as validated online programs, such as ‘Sleep-I.’ Lastly, for some, a sleep medication may be in order. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine does not recommend using over-the-counter sleep agents, so seeing your physician is a better option. To best prepare for your doctor visit it would be helpful to keep a sleep log. People are fairly accurate at reporting the time they fell asleep and woke up in the morning on a day to day basis. However, at the end of a week, we tend to underreport the amount of sleep we had over the previous seven days. Recording your sleep times each morning when you wake up will provide the most-accurate assessment of your sleep,” she said. “You can find sleep logs online, fill them out and bring them in to your physician,” she added.
Wood sees patients at Parkway Psychiatric Service, located at 451 Blount Memorial Physician Office Building in Maryville. For more information or to schedule an initial appointment, call Parkway Psychiatric Service at 865-980-5377.