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Sneaky Sleep Disruptors

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Wondering why you aren’t catching quality Zzzs? Cooper Clinic Preventive Medicine Physician, Carolyn Terry, MD, discusses the various environmental and lifestyle factors that might be to blame for your insomnia.

Counting sheep and poor night’s sleep
A sleep disruptor is something that contributes to an insufficient night’s sleep whether by reducing the total number of hours of sleep time or fragmenting your night of sleep with temporary arousals.

Insomnia is defined by difficulty falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep. Typical symptoms often include:

  • Difficulty functioning during the daytime
  • Fatigue
  • Low energy
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Reduced motivation

Insomnia is divided into two categories: short-term and chronic. Short-term insomnia is characterized by symptoms lasting anywhere from a few days to a few weeks and is typically related to an identifiable stressor such as job-related stress or major life changes. Chronic insomnia is defined by symptoms occurring at least three times per week and persisting longer than three months.

According to a study published by the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, chronic insomnia was seen in 33% of the general adult population sampled. Other studies have shown the prevalence of chronic insomnia is even higher among elderly patients, ranging between 30-48% of patients. 

Stumbling blocks to sweet dreams
Environmental factors in your bedroom can contribute to insomnia such as too much artificial light from electronics. The blue light transmitted from TVs, cell phones or tablets can interfere with melatonin release. Melatonin is a hormone secreted from the pineal gland in the brain. This hormone is responsible for making you feel tired and contributing to your body’s natural circadian rhythms.

Try to keep your bedroom in complete darkness with blackout curtains and sleeping with your handheld electronics lying face-down so that any alerts during the night won’t emit light into your bedroom.

Lifestyle habits to sleep on
Adopting healthy lifestyle habits can help promote a better night’s sleep. Consumption of caffeine, a natural chemical stimulant, late in the afternoon or early evening can also lead to difficulty with falling asleep at night. For some individuals, consuming spicy food or acidic foods in the evening can also trigger nighttime heartburn symptoms that may disrupt sleep. Try reserving your caffeine consumption for your morning routine and avoid drinking caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and soda late in the afternoon and early in the evening.

I also recommend my patients avoid taking late afternoon naps and using any nicotine products, as these both contribute to insomnia. Many medical studies have shown engaging in regular exercise can help reduce the difficulty of falling and staying asleep.

Increased situational stress or general anxiety can also play a huge role in the quality of your sleep. If you struggle with symptoms of depression or anxiety that consistently interfere with your sleep, I recommend talking to your physician who can help evaluate lifestyle changes and treatment options best for you.

Talk to your doctor
While it is possible for some individuals to feel well-rested with just a few hours of sleep, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults ages 18-65.

Some medical conditions can significantly exacerbate insomnia such as hyperthyroidism, restless leg syndrome, clinical depression and anxiety. Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder characterized by loud disruptive snoring, non-restorative sleep, morning headaches and severe daytime fatigue. This condition can lead to long-term serious heart and lung problems and should be evaluated by a sleep medicine specialist who can conduct a formal sleep study.

Sometimes a few tweaks to your lifestyle and sleep surroundings can help you sleep more soundly. Talk to your health care provider who understands your health profile best to see which treatment options are right for you in order to sleep and feel your best.

To learn more about Cooper Clinic preventive exams, click here or call 866.906.2667

Article provided by Carolyn Terry, MD, Cooper Clinic Preventive Medicine Physician.