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When was the last time you had a good night sleep? And I really mean a good undisturbed all night shut-eye without sleep aid? Can’t remember? Most of us blame pressure of work, lack of money, pain from a twisted knee, jet lag, emotional problems, marital problems (you think your spouse is having an extra marital affair, amongst others) for bad nights. Although the biggest sleep robber is work. We leave office late and in order to accommodate the relentless pressure for target results, we are sleeping less and spending less time in social and leisure pursuits; the resulting stress can steal away even more sleep. Consider this: We are not only missing more shut-eye, we are too tired to engage in lovemaking, too.
To some extent we can sacrifice sleep to meet other demands on our time and pay a hefty sum for this opportunity. This is due to the fact that the necessity for sleep is deeply ingrained in our brains, so any disruption of its normal regularity triggers a myriad of problems. Sleep impacts our concentration, our memory, energy level, health, and wellbeing, particularly our mood, explaining why severe sleep disruption seems to be the major predictor for depression.
No doubt it’s part of human existence to fight stress and anxiety, leading to troubled night sometimes, however it’s our response to it that decides if we will end up with chronic insomnia. Amazingly, it seems the best thing to do in response to a bout of sleeplessness is, most times, to do nothing.
1. Is it Insomnia or just a phase of a sleep disorder? We use the word insomnia loosely to describe the time we struggle to get enough sleep. Experts usually relate the ‘30-30’ rule, which means it’s insomnia if you take 30 minutes or more to fall asleep or if you wake up for 30 minutes or more during the night - at least three times a week. So thankfully it isn’t insomnia, irrespective of how little you sleep, unless your nighttime habits slow you down during the day.
People who have trouble going to sleep or waking up perhaps are not technically insomniacs, but could be suffering from ‘sleep-phase disorder.’ This means that people have unknowingly trained themselves to knock off at the wrong time. It's a common condition among adolescents and college students who submit to all the demands for their time, so don’t get to sleep before 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. and then unable to get up for lectures. You’re likely to have a phase-shift problem if you’re unable to sleep four or five times a week but able to sleep at weekends. Sleep patterns also shift during life. A popular phrase to describe a good sleep is to say ‘I slept like a baby’. But according to experts, you don’t really want to sleep like a baby because babies wake often. They can’t sleep for a long stretch. So you’d rather want to sleep like an adolescent who sleep like forever. For many people sleep takes a downward trend from there.
2. Influence of Marriage and Childbirth: Marriage means obliging the sleep habits of a different person, a natural hazard if a late sleeper ‘owl’ ties the knot with an early riser ‘lark’, then attempts to go to bed three hours earlier than his body favours. Childbirth also brings children, and women normally learn to be watchful during sleep and never get out of the routine. Women get used to noise so much so that the habit of easy waking remains with them persistently, encouraging some experts to state that child rearing is a major cause of insomnia.
3. Anxiety About Not Sleeping: After one sleepless night, most people become frustrated and anxious about the need to ‘must’ fall asleep and remain asleep. So you try to make up. You snooze in the middle of the day afternoon or go to bed early. Or you wake up late the following morning, or decide to have one or two nightcaps before. That only worsens the case. You go to bed and, not having met the accumulated sleep deprivation, you stare at the ceiling half the night. By now you’re even more exhausted and anxious about the penalties for not sleeping than you were the day before. In no time, this self- imposed overwhelming phase becomes real. Under the effect of anxiety, your brain learns very fast to link the bedroom with sleeplessness. There are now a thousand things to ponder, including how you ‘must’ fall asleep so you can be at your productive best the next day.
4. Answer to Insomnia: Do Nothing!
The strategies people usually use to feel better after a bad night, such as snoozing, early to bed, late to rise, tend to weaken the body's natural disposition to correct itself after a short spell of insomnia.
Consequently, the most powerful attack on insomnia is to do nothing at all. The first and best strategy to right sleeplessness is to let the sleep rhythm correct itself, without making any attempt to compensate. It’s also possible that an immediate use of a sleeping pill, for example after a couple of sleepless nights, rather than after many horrible months, may get the natural rhythm back on track.
This is good news being aware of the damaging supremacy of persistent insomnia. Chronic insomnia makes people irritable, prompt headaches and muscle pain. It terminates attentiveness and mental wellbeing; it weakens the ability to cope and deprives liveliness. It weakens intimate relationships. It also seems to be the major predictor of depression. Most depressed people have trouble sleeping. Two or more weeks of sleeplessness, according to experts, increase the risk of a first spell of depression by 400%, even for a person that has never experienced depression. And for those already struggling with depression, insomnia frequently brings in a recurrence, since insomnia often heralds spells of depression by about five weeks. Evidence suggests that treating insomnia may stop a first spell of depression, or a recurrence, and at the minimum stop insomnia from becoming persistent. So if we stop insomnia, we stop the risk of the depression. This is a good reason to keep your hat on the next time you are awake at 3 a.m.
Photo Credit: Creative Commons.