Having Problems Sleeping? You’re not Alone
Have you ever heard people say they haven’t slept in months? Or that their minds “won’t shut off” at night? Some people complain they never get any deep sleep1 or that dragging themselves out of bed in the morning is a miserable experience.
Problems sleeping can indeed make one’s life miserable. Maybe you have experienced this yourself. Over 30% of the American population experiences insomnia, whether occasionally or regularly. Those most at risk are women, the elderly, those with psychiatric or medical disorders, and those who work 2nd and 3rd work shifts.2
Sleep Restores and Refreshes You
It’s important to know your body and your mind are restored and refreshed when you sleep. Sleep is necessary for your physical and mental survival! It’s the chance for your body and mind to rest and recover. During periods of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, your brain actually completes unfinished tasks from the day.
REM sleep stores memories, reorganizes information, and processes new knowledge gained that day. Dreams restore us emotionally. Our creative and problem-solving abilities are used during REM sleep.3 Sleep actually reverses the physical and chemical processes that decay when you’re awake.4 Not sleeping will impair your memory, your concentration, your immune system, and your psychomotor performance.5
A Vicious Cycle
If you can’t fall asleep quickly at night, or sleep too much, this could mean you are anxious or depressed.6 Anxiety causes physiological arousal which can keep one awake at night. One who is depressed might have a hard time falling asleep at night, or wake up very early in the morning unable to fall back asleep. Depression may also cause one to oversleep. One’s unique make-up will determine how his or her depression affects sleep.
A Good “Sleep Hygiene”
There are many rules of thumb for maintaining good “sleep hygiene”. Think along the lines of what will help you relax before sleeping. For example, take a warm bath instead of a shower before going to bed. Likewise, stay away from things that prevent relaxation. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening. Do not eat a heavy meal right before sleep, yet don’t go to bed hungry; eat a light snack. Regular exercise will help you sleep at night; however, do not engage in exercise within the last few hours before bed.7 Use of substances such as alcohol and cigarettes, especially in the afternoon and evening, can hinder your ability to fall or stay asleep as well.8
Avoid using your bed to read, work, watch television, or talk about highly emotional issues. If your bed is only associated with those times you sleep, it will become a haven of rest. If you associate your bed with stress, or use it often to study, it can lose that relaxation effect. Keep bright lights and noises away from your bedroom, and keep it at a cooler temperature; if your room is hot or stuffy this will make it harder to fall or stay asleep.9 If possible, avoid taking naps during the day. It is best to have a sleep schedule that is regular.10 Then, your body will become your natural clock, prompting you to awake and sleep at predictable times.
Did you know that your body perceives excitement the same way it perceives fear? The excitement of fun experiences such as new friends, new classes, and a new job cause higher adrenaline flow, faster heart rate, and increased muscle contractions.11 Being too excited as well as being too anxious will prevent your body from relaxing. If you’ve just experienced a conversation or situation that is upsetting, your body will need to relax before sleep can set in. To help calm yourself before sleep, learn some relaxation techniques to practice while in bed.12 Allow yourself to let go of intrusive thoughts.13 Brooding over the events of the day, planning the future, and brainstorming ideas can prevent you from falling asleep.
f you find that after lying in bed for over half an hour you still cannot sleep, get out of bed and read or study until you are tired.14 People with insomnia often feel frustrated, angry, or anxious because they cannot sleep. It is good to interrupt this frustration by getting out of bed, turning on the light, and doing something. “Trying harder” to fall asleep will only increase your frustration and anxiety.15
Considering a Sleep Aid?
Melatonin is an all-natural aid that can help you sleep. In addition there are may types of medications that assist with sleep. Of course, your physician should be consulted as a guide in whether and how Melatonin or any other medicinal aid may help you sleep. As always, see your physician to begin finding the right one for you.
Addressing any psychological issues and developing good “sleep hygiene” are good ways you can help yourself get restful sleep. Remember: sleeping is crucial to maintaining your mental and physical well-being! If you would like help with getting a better night’s sleep, consider making an appointment with someone at the Counseling Center. We are happy to help steer you towards sleeping peacefully again. Make a decision right now; don’t sleep on it.
To make an appointment with a member of the Georgetown College Student Wellness Center’s counseling staff for help on this or any issue, please call 502-863-7074. Counseling staff include:
Dr. Macy Wyatt
Dr. Edward Marshall
By Audrey Wagner
1 Kentucky Sleep Society: Quanta Dynamics, Inc. What happens when we sleep [Brochure].
2 “What Happens”
3 “What Happens”
4 Albert, E. New frontiers in the treatment of chronic insomnia. Presented at Sepracor, Inc.
5 Albert, n.d.
6 Cole, J.D. Psychology and sleep; Determining differential diagnosis and treatment. resented at Pain Treatment Center of the Bluegrass: Lexington, KY.
7 Albert, E.
8 Albert, E.
9 Neville, J. K., et. al. (2001). Empirically supported treatments for insomnia. Scandinavian Journal of Behavior Therapy, 30(1), 23-32.] 10 Becoming a Master Student. Your machine: Rest it [Brochure].
11 “Your Machine”
12 “Your Machine”
13 Nevile, et. al.
14 “Your Machine”
15 Neville, et.al.