Sleepless in ___(your city)___

2:11 a.m. 2:13 a.m. 2:14 a.m. 2:14 a.m. 2:15 a.m. 2:17 a.m.   “Aww man, I gotta get some sleep, I have that presentation at work tomorrow… Who’s going to take Jonny to soccer? What am I going to make for dinner? Is there enough gas in. the car to get to work and back? OMG why can’t I just fall asleep? 2:21 a.m. 2:22 a.m. 2:22 a.m. I have to get up in 3 hours! Come on! 2:23 a.m. 2:25 am…. =

The “so anxious about getting sleep I’m not getting any sleep” cycle at its’ finest. Statistics Canada has found that 1 in 7 Canadians (that’s 3.3 billion of us!) are affected by insomnia or another form of sleep disturbance on any given night.

Sleepless nights seem endless, like there are 2 000 seconds in a minute. Aside from the occasional dream, we cannot usually account for all that happens during sleep; when that sleep doesn’t happen however, we are often able to account for every single thing that happens during the night, and then some. As if nights of insomnia aren’t enough, a foggy mind, inability to concentrate, and dark circles under the eyes are additional “battle wounds”.

Mysterious and elusive as it may be, sleep is of utmost importance to our ability to function effectively and productively in life; particularly in the present always connected and busy world we live in, the ability to focus and concentrate is essential. So we need, desperately need, good quality sleep.

Getting adequate amounts of sleep is just as important to our general health as eating a nutritious diet. Not only does sleep help to sharpen our attention and focus, it also plays a key role in weight management and increasing immunity against illness. Vital changes in heart and respiratory rates occur during sleep, as does brain wave activity. In many ways, sleep repairs us physically.

Psychologically, sufficient amounts of restorative slumber can help with stress and mood regulation, forming/storing/recalling memories and new information, and contributes to a subjective sense of overall well being; your safety and the safety of others could also be at risk from too little attention or focus being given to potential hazards resulting from a lack of sleep.    Broadly, sleep helps the body and the mind to restore and refresh.

During a period of crisis or troubling times, it is common for sleep to be negatively impacted (getting too much or too little) and interrupted. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to the incidence of various health problems (such as obesity, heart disease, and even early death).

It has been shown that there is no one set amount or number of hours of sleep everyone should always get or aim for; one size does not fit all! The National Sleep Foundation recommends following categorized requirements based on age; note that even this is subject to change on the basis of your activity level, body type, age, illness, and physiological and cognitive/emotional changes. It is not really possible to generalize how much sleep each individual needs from research that studies the sleep needs of a different person! Be sensitive to the messages about sleep that your body sends you! If difficulty sleeping persists, it is advisable to contact your physician and/or a mental health professional so as to rule out any underlying complications.

While medications (“sleeping pills”) are often turned to when insomnia hits, not everyone tolerates or responds well to them or their side effects; in addition, there is a risk of becoming addicted to or abusing these drugs. Natural remedies for sleeplessness (like vitamins, herbs, or oils) are also widely turned to for relief of trouble sleeping  Success with any treatment for insomnia is variable and unique for each person.

Duration and overall quality of sleep can be directly related to your sleep hygiene; this refers to patterns and habits that are necessary for a good night’s sleep and subsequent daytime alertness.

Some tips for enhancing or improving you sleep hygiene are:

  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
  • Evaluate how comfortable your mattresses, pillows, and bedclothes are to you.
  • Avoid stimulants (caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol) in the late afternoon and evening.
  • Avoid having a large meal right before going to bed.
  • Steer clear of foods that lead to an upset stomach (for you).
  • Be well hydrated throughout the day.
  • Do your vigorous exercise in the morning.
  • Practice relaxing exercises (like yoga or light stretching) before bed.
  • Establish a regular schedule for going to bed and getting up.
  • Refrain from bright blue tinted light (screen time) for at least 1 hour before bed.
  • Avoid watching troubling or upsetting programs on TV or the movies.
  • Avoid long naps later in the day.
  • Don’t be a middle of the night “clock watcher”.
  • Associate your bedroom with sleep (and sex) ie no TVs, iPads, tablets, etc.

Rather than enduring night after night of staring at the ceiling, endlessly counting sheep, or fretting about potential consequences of not getting a prescribed amount of sleep, take action by trying these and other strategies that could lead to some coveted shuteye.

Sweet Dreams!

Andrea Dasilva is a Masters of Education, and a Registered Clinical Counsellor at No Fear Counselling and Summit Counselling Group.

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