Dennis B. Kottler, MD
Westlake Village, CA
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See also: "Sleep: Difference is Day and Night"
There are many variations in sleep pattern. Some individuals do very well with 6 hours of sleep, while others seem to "require" 9 hours. Bedtimes and wake times also seem to vary considerably among different individuals.
Whatever the pattern, sleep should be restorative. A person should awaken refreshed and motivated to start the day. If this is not the case, the problem may lie with the duration and quality of sleep or the insidious development of a "sleep deficit." This problem occurs when sleep is short-changed over a period of time.
The effects of a "sleep deficit" may not be apparent for weeks or months, but at some point, the person may experience depressed mood, decreased motivation, irritability, daytime tiredness, difficulty concentrating, impaired judgment, and various aching joints and muscles. These symptoms can be mistaken for mood or anxiety disorders or other medical illnesses.
A few helpful tips:
As much as possible, have an established routine. Going to bed at a consistent time seems to facilitate falling asleep. Having a consistent bedtime "ritual" seems to help also. People are like dogs in that they function well with routines.
It is helpful to "wind down" in the last few hours leading to bedtime. Vigorous exercise, or even intellectual activity (writing that killer novel) prior to bedtime can sometimes interfere with falling asleep. Once it gets going, the mind may find it hard to "turn off." Also it is usually advisable to avoid major arguments prior to turning in. And try not to go to sleep thinking about all the things you have to do the next day; make a list if necessary and then put it aside until the next day.
Keep the sleep period limited to a solid block of time with as few interruptions as possible. Try to minimize bathroom trips by restricting fluids one hour or more before bedtime. It is normal for brief interruptions of sleep to occur, but avoid looking at the clock when this happens, since this only adds to the anxiety of "not getting enough sleep." Rather than lie in bed unable to sleep and getting increasing anxious and frustrated, get up and do something relaxing, like reading, till tiredness sets in again, then go back to bed.
Reserve the bed for sleep only (possibly sex if this is not too stimulating). It is probably not a good idea to read in bed for more than a few minutes or to have a long discussion with a spouse. These activities should occur outside the bedroom.
Avoid dallying in bed in the morning. Again, consolidate the sleep time. If awake at a "reasonable" hour in the morning, get up. Even if that night's duration of sleep was less than ideal, it is usually better not to "sleep in." Many times a person feels even worse after trying to add another couple of hours in the morning. Also getting up with the sun helps with falling asleep.
Avoid daytime naps, especially towards the end of the day.
Unless shift work makes this impossible, try to coordinate the sleep cycle with the natural daylight cycle. The body is designed to awaken when daylight hits and to fall asleep when nighttime sets in, although artificial light has probably caused a shift in these time periods.
When lack of sleep, excessive sleep, or poor quality sleep persists, consider medical consultation. Sleep problems can also result from a number of primary psychiatric as well as medical conditions and these need to be properly diagnosed and treated.
Resist the temptation to depend on the regular use of over the counter sleep aids. These medications do not solve the problem and can sometimes perpetuate poor sleep patterns as well as daytime drowsiness. And just because a medication is available over the counter does not mean that it doesn't have potentially serious side effects.
Article by Author: "Why We Can't Sleep and What We Can Do About It"
Article by Author: "Sleep Doesn't Just Happen at Night"
Additional Suggested Readings
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