How to Give Your Insomnia a Rest
If you didn’t sleep well last night, you’re not alone. According to a 2016 Consumer Reports survey, a whopping 68 percent of Americans struggle with their sleep at least once a week, and 27 percent have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep most nights.
Janet McCormick, MS, educator, author and co-owner of Nailcare Academy, falls into the latter category. “I’ve had only three to four hours of sleep most nights for years,” the nail industry veteran reveals. “My doctor pushed me very hard to make a change in my lifestyle for the sake of my health, but I didn’t take him seriously. He ended up being right.” A long-time sufferer of insomnia, McCormick urges other nail pros with the problem to heed her advice: Address the issue early on, for the sake of your health and your career. Here’s everything you need to know about identifying, understanding and addressing this distressing condition.
The Real Deal
“There are three factors that health professionals use to determine whether a person suffers from insomnia: length, severity and impact,” explains Colleen Ehrnstrom, PhD, ABPP, a clinical psychologist who works in the family program at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Denver, and co-author of End the Insomnia Struggle: A Step- by-Step Guide to Help You Get to Sleep and Stay Asleep. “For length, we diagnose insomnia when someone is reporting trouble sleeping ‘more often than not’ for a minimum of 30 days. So, it has gone on long enough that it’s starting to create its own pattern. For severity, if you’re having problems with any of the following more often than not for 30-plus days—falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep, or just feeling like you’re not able to get restorative sleep—that indicates insomnia,” Ehrnstrom continues. “As for impact, we look for effects that occur during the day, not just at night, like fatigue, distress, dysfunction and difficulty getting things done.”
If any or all of the above apply to you, insomnia may be your problem—but there’s a caveat. “We’re not talking about people who are sleep-deprived because they’re up late working or taking care of kids,” Ehrnstrom clarifies. “We’re talking about people getting into bed at the prescribed time, staying in bed and still not getting that deep sleep.” Interestingly, she points out, individuals with insomnia usually spend more time in bed than they need to because “they’re trying to catch up.” This, she adds, can actually confuse the body and make things worse.
The Insomnia “Spiral”
Insomnia is not, in and of itself, a medical condition. However, as McCormick learned, it is a risk factor for a nearly endless list of health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, obesity, mental health disorders and even infertility. Lack of sleep also compromises the immune system, leaving us more vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections.
Even a small loss of sleep increases the likelihood for accidents and misjudgments. “Studies have shown that just one night lacking sleep can impact our reaction time, our thought-processing time and our focus,” reports Ehrnstrom. Imagine the effects of a sleep deficit of a month or more! For nail techs, the consequences might include a nipped cuticle or a scalded foot. Quality of work, especially detail work, can suffer—and profit margins might follow, increasing stress and leading to even more sleepless nights. “I’m glad I’m educating instead of working in a salon,” McCormick admits. “The services I would do would be horrible!”
Although anyone can develop insomnia, according to Ehrnstrom, there are six circumstances that seem to render people most vulnerable:
• Being a woman (the female endocrine system is tied to sleep circuitry).
• Being aged 60 or over.
• A mental health diagnosis.
• Frequent, extensive travel.
• Working shifts that vary or aren’t compatible with a normal sleep schedule.
Still, not every woman, person over 60, frequent traveler, etc., develops insomnia. Why some and not others? Many insomnia experts, including Ehrnstrom, turn to the “3P Model” espoused by sleep researchers Art Spielman, PhD, and Paul Glovinsky, PhD, FAASM, to explain how people get stuck in an “insomnia spiral.” “The 3Ps—which stand for predisposal, precipitating and perpetuating—describe a stacking effect of elements that, when occurring together, lead to the problem,” she explains. For example, a mental health issue or recent injury might predispose someone to insomnia. Then there’s a precipitating event, such as a major life change, which pushes them further. Finally, the person has a perceived need to do something counterproductive to sleep, such as spend too much time in bed, and that perpetuates the problem to create that “perfect storm” that is insomnia.
A Long-Term Fix
There are numerous proven ways to address insomnia, but first it’s essential to determine or rule out a serious medical problem as the cause. Sleep apnea,
for instance, is a relatively common but potentially life-threatening condition in which pauses in breathing during sleep can lower a person’s blood oxygen to dangerous levels. Depression or anxiety, chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders and heart rhythm irregularities could also affect sleep. In many cases, addressing these issues resolves the insomnia.
Prescription or over-the-counter sleep medications can be helpful for short- term or medically supervised use. “When you’re taking care of kids, have to drive, have an important job or are suffering from mental health effects, it’s better to err on the side of medication just to stabilize the person,” says Ehrnstrom. “Over time, however, the drugs can become harmful to the body and even stop working altogether.” Once insomnia sufferers are beginning to get better sleep, Ehrnstrom recommends shifting from a short-term medication fix to looking at your overall relationship with sleep. “You need to nurture it like any other relationship,” she says. “Identify your particular problems, as there are different ways to address them.”
Sleep experts recommend a few commonsense measures you can adopt to help regulate your sleep:
• Curb caffeine intake.
• Exercise regularly.
• Avoid food (except for a small snack) or alcohol intake at least three hours before bedtime.
• Stick to a bedtime/wake-time routine.
• Make sure your bedroom is dark and cool. • Try relaxation and meditation techniques.
• Avoid screens before bed.
• Talk to a friend or therapist about nagging worries that keep you awake.
And finally, remember that your body is not going to be predictable no matter what you do. “Inherent in all of this is that sleep is irregular in a normative way, just like appetite is—some days we’re just hungrier and others, less so,” says Ehrnstrom. “If you think you’re supposed to have high-quality sleep every night, you might start to worry if you’re ‘developing a problem.’ It’s important to remember that we all have trouble sleeping from time to time.”
- Approximately 60 million Americans are affected by insomnia.
- Insomnia costs the U.S. economy $63 billion in lost productively every year.
- About 80% of pregnant women suffer from insomnia.
- Eighty-three percent of people who suffer from depression also experience symptoms of insomnia.
- It’s estimated that one-third of overdoses involve medications commonly prescribed for insomnia.
Sources: National Sleep Foundation; American Academy of Sleep Medicine; National Center on Sleep Disorders Research; American Alliance for Healthy Sleep, End the Insomnia Struggle: A Step-by-Step Guide to Help You Get to Sleep and Stay Asleep (Ehrnstrom & Brosse, New Harbinger, 2016).
–by Linda Kossoff
[Image: Getty Images]