We all have a bad night’s sleep occasionally, but we’re able to plow through the next day with minimal negative effects on our mood. However, when sleep problems occur for 2 or more nights in a row people experience far fewer positive emotions and many more bad feelings. Sleep disruption for several nights in a row affects 1 in 3 Americans, with 10% suffering from chronic insomnia.
As researchers reported in the November 2015 issue of the journal Sleep, people whose rest is disrupted by repeated awakenings during the night don’t progress through the normal sleep stages. Therefore, they fail to get the proper amount of slow-wave sleep necessary to attain a feeling of restoration.
People suffering from a period of insomnia indicated their positive mood dropped an average of 31%, making it hard to enjoy life. Individuals who stayed up too late for a couple of nights in a row reported a decrease of 12% in their positive emotions compared to people who got the proper amount of sleep. Frequent awakenings are common among new parents and on-call healthcare workers.
The most common symptom of insomnia is depression. This is probably due to people dropping well below the 3:1 ratio of positive to negative emotions required for being in a good mood. In addition to having far fewer positive emotions, insomnia reduced people’s energy levels as well as their feelings of friendliness and sympathy.
Insomnia can get worse with age, contributing to chronic health problems including heart disease and high blood pressure, weight gain and obesity, memory and concentration difficulties, and type 2 diabetes. Insomnia also raises your risk of accidents, including car accidents. Sleep medications can exacerbate the risk, so follow the FDA warnings about driving or operating machinery.
There are a number of steps that you can take to fall asleep when you want to and be able to stay asleep in order to get the quality rest you need:
Set standard time for sleeping. A better night’s sleep starts by maintaining a steady schedule for going to sleep and waking up throughout the week, including weekends. People need 7 to 9 hours of sleep at night. Figure out what’s optimal for you. Then set bedtime and a wake-up time for yourself. Sticking to a consistent schedule is more important than the number of hours.
Train your brain to get ready for sleep. Your brain needs to learn how to shift from being awake to going to sleep. It’s crucial to create a 30-45 minute ritual that will prepare you for going to bed. For example, turning off the TV, taking a shower, brushing your teeth and slipping into sleepwear will signal your brain that it’s ok to wind down.
Stop stimulating behaviors. Starting late afternoon, stop consuming coffee, soda, or other caffeinated drinks; smoking; exercising; or eating heavy meals. Avoid evening activities that are firing off stress chemicals in your brain, such as watching violent shows, continuing an argument, playing with your electronic devices or paying bills.
Regulate light in the late evening. Turn down the lights at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Light signals your brain to stay awake.
Don’t sleep during the day. Short naps can be refreshing if you follow the Mayo Clinic guidelines: Limit naps to 10-30 minutes around 2-3:00 in the afternoon. Sleeping too long in the daytime makes it harder to fall asleep at bedtime and feeds the pattern of disrupting your sleep cycle every few hours.
Don’t drink alcohol before bed. While it can help you fall asleep at first, it throws off your natural rhythms and will keep you from sleeping well later in the night.
Stop worrying about your sleep issues. Lying in bed dwelling on your inability to fall asleep simply makes it worse. Instead, count your blessings. Numerous studies show that one of the most powerful methods for relaxing your mind is to relive 3 good things that happened during the day, or review the 3 best things you love about your life.
Exercise for a minimum of 30-45 minutes. Even a moderately paced walk several hours before bedtime will burn off the stress chemicals that accumulate during the day. Your body evolved to keep you alert and on edge in order to protect you from the stressors you encountered during the day. Problem is that in modern times the stress is your boss not a saber-toothed tiger.
Consult a sleep specialist if you’re following these recommendations and still aren’t getting a good night’s sleep.