What you need to know and do to combat insomnia.
Posted Oct 01, 2018
After a long day, you gleefully retire to bed, looking forward to some shuteye and a chance to face the day with fresh eyes tomorrow. Instead, you toss and turn for hours, falling asleep two hours before the alarm clock sounds. Or maybe you drift off fine, but awaken dozens of times throughout the night, struggling to fall back asleep each time. As back to school time is here yet again, many parents find themselves struggling with early mornings and insomnia. Some children can’t pay attention at school due to sleepless nights.
Insomnia is enough to push even the calmest among us over the edge. And sleep deprivation can make it difficult to think clearly, solve problems, or even make it to work on time. You don’t have to live with it. Sleep issues are not predestined. Treatment works, and often, it works faster than you might think.
Insomnia: A Common Problem
Particularly if you’re sleeping next to a partner who seems totally relaxed, it’s easy to feel like you're the only person in the world who struggles with insomnia. But insomnia is common. About 10% of adults have chronic insomnia, and more than a third struggle with periodic bouts of sleeplessness. Factor in the occasional restless night, the effects of stress, and the amplifying effects of caffeine, and you have a recipe for lots of restless sleepers out there.
Insomnia is rarely a sign of a serious medical issue. More often, it’s a lifestyle issue that signals an inability to quiet a racing mind.
Why Insomnia in Children is Different
It’s common for both children and adults to struggle with insomnia, and in both cases, the problem is normally a lifestyle issue—not a serious health concern. But insomnia in children is different. Children depend on sleep to grow strong and healthy brains. Sleep-deprived kids may struggle at school, experience behavioral issues, and be less equipped to learn. So adults should not write off insomnia in kids. Your child will not just eventually pass out when he or she is tired enough. Sleep issues demand prompt intervention from someone who understands them—not someone who will tell you to punish your child into sleeping or leave him or her alone if he or she is afraid to fall asleep.
How Much Sleep Do You Need Anyway?
Most of us have heard the bland recommendation that we need 6-8 hours of sleep a night. That’s a misleading statement, because sleep needs vary with age, activity level, and many other factors. Some people naturally need more sleep. Very active people, those facing stress, and those with chronic illnesses may also need more sleep.
People who get less sleep than they need for more than a night or two are vulnerable to a host of health concerns. Children may display behavioral issues or struggle to learn at school. The National Sleep Foundation makes the following sleep recommendations:
· Newborns 0-3 months: 14-17 hours
· Infants 4-11 months: 12-15 hours
· Toddlers 1-2 years: 11-14 hours
· Preschoolers 3-5 years: 10-13 hours
· Children 6-13 years: 9-11 hours
· Teens 14-17 years: 8-10 hours
· Adults 18-64 years: 7-9 hours
· Seniors 65 and older: 7-8 hours
Sleeping Pills Aren’t the Only Option
Many people who struggle to sleep talk to a primary care physician and get a prescription for sleeping pills. There’s nothing wrong with short-term use of sleeping pills, but these drugs aren’t for everyone. Individuals who need sleeping pills in the short-term should always combine the psychotropic approach with behavioral strategies to address the root of the problem.
In people who take certain drugs, who have a history of alcohol or drug abuse, and who have other risk factors, the risks of using sleeping pills may be greater. Talk openly and honestly about your medical history with your doctor.
Lifestyle Strategies for Managing Sleeping Difficulties
If your insomnia is mild or only occasional, some simple lifestyle strategies can help. Those include:
· Sleeping in a cool, dark, quiet room with a white noise machine.
· Creating a bedtime ritual for yourself or your child.
· Avoiding exercise and excitement in the hours immediately before bedtime.
· Cutting down on caffeine.
· Meditating before you fall asleep.
· Only using your bed for sleep or sex.
· Getting up and doing something else if you can’t sleep. Otherwise, your brain begins to associate your bed with sleeplessness, initiating a cycle of stress and insomnia.
Treatment for Insomnia
If you’d prefer to avoid sleeping pills, one of the easiest ways to treat insomnia is with therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be particularly effective. A program called CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia) is specifically designed to identify problematic thoughts and behaviors—such as thinking about things that upset you when you fall asleep—then helping you find better coping strategies. Many people with insomnia get stuck in loops of negative thoughts, but CBT or CBT-I can reverse this process. It’s simple, safe, and may help you—or your child—get some much-needed rest.
Insomnia Awareness Day facts and stats. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.sleepeducation.org/news/2014/03/10/insomnia-awareness-day-facts-and-stats
National Sleep Foundation recommends new sleep times. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://sleepfoundation.org/press-release/national-sleep-foundation-recommends-new-sleep-times