How to reclaim a good night's sleep
Insomnia, the inability to fall or remain asleep for a full night's restorative sleep, is on the increase as the economic, social, emotional and physical stresses of the pandemic make it hard to shut off worries. That means folks who never had sleep woes before are finding that they, too, are contending with its complications, such as reduced performance at school or work, slower reaction times (driving is riskier), increased drinking, depression and anxiety, and an ever-increasing risk of high blood pressure, cancer, dementia and heart disease. It's estimated that previously around 10 percent of adults had chronic insomnia, while around 30 percent had symptoms, usually temporary. These days, experts estimate that 25 percent to 74 percent of adults experience ongoing insomnia.
If you are having trouble sleeping, you want to nip it in the bud before it becomes chronic. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that 61 percent of those with chronic insomnia syndrome still battled it three years later. And in a new study in JAMA Open Network, researchers looked at more than 3,000 adults over five years. Around 37 percent of participants who had chronic insomnia (daily sleep troubles for a month or longer or three times per week for at least three months) at the beginning of the study still had it five years later, and any remission was often temporary. Among participants who were experiencing insomnia for the first time, fully 47 percent reported symptoms a year later.
You want to take steps to break the pattern and restore a healthy sleep pattern as quickly as possible. Not only will you restore your energy and a rosier outlook, you will be taking important steps to control your sleep-affected blood pressure and heart health. One study found that folks who sleep less than six hours a night raise their risk of heart attack 20 percent, and another found that people who report sleep disturbances almost nightly are at a 40 percent to 50 percent increased risk of heart attack.
You have the tools and the ability to overcome this troubling side effect of everything that you've been dealing with this year. So get started. Then when the pandemic is in the rearview mirror, you won't have to deal with persistent insomnia or its complications.
- Establish a routine and stick to it, just like you did last year and the year before. The pandemic "has caused a lot of upheaval to our daily routines," explains Cleveland Clinic sleep psychologist Michelle Drerup.
If homeschooling, working from home, loss of employment or lockdowns have thrown your schedule out the window, chances are your sleep is off schedule too. So write out a schedule for getting out of bed, having breakfast, exercising, working/homeschooling, getting into bed, etc. and post it so you - and your household - can see and follow it.
- Institute stimulus control: The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says to go to bed only when sleepy, leave the bed when you're unable to sleep, avoid naps and use the bed only for sleep and sex. Keep digital devices and screens out of the bedroom.
- Identify the sleep disrupters in your life: habits (drinking or eating before bedtime, smoking, taking recreational drugs), medications and health problems such as sleep apnea, diabetes or chronic pain that can contribute to disturbed sleep. Asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease, overactive thyroid, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease are often sleep robbers, too. Talk with your doctor about how to resolve those issues.
- Adopt the intermittent fasting schedule in Dr. Mike's book "What to Eat When." Good eating patterns and optimal nutrition promote good sleep.
- Make sure to get in 10,000 steps or the equivalent daily -- even indoors. Physical activity is essential for good quality sleep.
- Try online cognitive behavioral therapy to help you manage worries, change behaviors and reestablish a schedule.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer Emeritus at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit www.sharecare.com.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.