Have you ever spent the night listening to the clock tick on your bedside table? If so, you know how frustrating restless nights are.
Stress and everyday life events create restless nights once in a while. Lack of sleep zaps your vitality. Without enough rest, you become more forgetful and have problems focusing. It can also make you feel cranky or more apt to have accidents. Aging, certain health problems, and medicines can all interfere with a good night's rest.
Sleep disorders are common. There are many different ones. The most common are:
Insomnia symptoms include:
- Problems falling asleep and/or staying asleep
- Waking up often
- Lack of restful sleep
- Daytime sleepiness
Insomnia may be short term (a few days or weeks) or long-term (more than 4 weeks). It makes it hard to function during the day.
Sleep troubles may seem like only an annoyance. But long term insomnia can affect your health. It needs to be treated.
Treatments for insomnia include changing sleep habits, avoiding stimulants, and sometimes sleep medicine.
Sleep apnea is a disorder with pauses in breathing during sleep. These pauses can last for 10 to 30 seconds at a time. It interrupts sleep often and leads to daytime sleepiness. If untreated, it may lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and early death.
People with sleep apnea often snore loudly or wake up gasping for air. If you or your bed partner has any of these symptoms, call your doctor.
There are many effective treatments for sleep apnea. They include continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, dental devices, lifestyle changes, medicines, or surgery. Treatment will also lower your risk of problems.
Why Sleep Becomes Hard to Get
Many people do not have a sleep disorder, but still have trouble sleeping. A number of health problems can cause problems sleeping, including:
- Pain—People with arthritis often have painful joints. The pain may make it hard to fall or stay asleep. If you suffer from arthritis, ask your doctor about pain treatments.
- Heartburn—Nighttime heartburn may cause symptoms of wheezing and long term cough. It can cause repeated awakenings and daytime sleepiness. Raising the head of the bed may ease symptoms. Medicine may also help.
- Respiratory ailments—Asthma, lung, nerve, and muscle diseases can affect breathing. They can cause trouble with sleep.
- Menopause—Hot flashes and breathing changes are linked with menopause. They appear to disturb sleep—sometimes quite often.
- Medicine—Ask your doctor or pharmacist if your medicines cause insomnia or drowsiness. They may suggest changing the drug or the time you take it.
- Going to the bathroom—An enlarged prostate or other conditions can cause frequent bathroom trips at night. This can disturb your sleep. Talk to your doctor if you are using the bathroom many times at night.
- Chemical changes—The hormone melatonin influences sleep and wakefulness. Production of this hormone changes as we age.
Making Good Sleep Habits
Certain habits can help you get better sleep. It is important to stick to them. This will help them become a part of your routine. Good sleep habits include:
- Go to bed at the same time each night. Do this even on your days off.
- Use your bed for sleep and sex. Watch television or read in another room.
- Do not use caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes, especially in the evening.
- Do not lie in bed watching the clock. If you cannot fall asleep within half an hour, get up. Go to another room and listen to calming music or read.
- Do some physical activity every day. Even a walk is a good choice. Do not do activity too close to bedtime though.
- Try not to nap. If you must, limit it to 30 minutes. Do not nap too late in the day
- Sleep in a cool, quiet, dark room. Wear earplugs or eyeshades to block out light and sound.
- Sleep on comfortable bedding.
- Limit drinking fluids a few hours before bedtime.
- Do not go to bed hungry or overstuffed. Both may cause physical discomfort.
- Turn off cell phones, tablets, and computers at least 30 minutes before bed. Lights and sounds can disrupt sleep.
Sleep Medications and Herbal Remedies
Changing sleep habits is often the best treatment for insomnia. It should be used before medicines and supplements. Your doctor may ask you to keep a diary of your sleep and wake habits. This may help find the cause of your sleeplessness and its solution.
Some people use melatonin, valerian, or other supplements to help them sleep. Be sure to tell your doctor if you are taking any supplements.
Sleep is very important for your health. Do not settle for a few hours of sleep per night. Sleeplessness and sleep disorders are treatable. Try different methods. If you still have problems, call your doctor.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine
National Sleep Foundation
Better Sleep Council Canada
Canadian Sleep Society
Insomnia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/insomnia-in-adults. Accessed June 9, 2021.
Insomnia. National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: https://sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/content/symptoms. Accessed June 9, 2021.
Melatonin. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: https://www.ebsco.com/products/research-databases/natural-alternative-treatments. Accessed June 9, 2021.
Melatonin: what you need to know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. Available at: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/melatonin#hed1. Accessed June 9, 2021.
Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 6/9/2021