On average, we spend one-third of our lives sleeping, yet many of us take sleep for granted. Only when it becomes disturbed do we pay some attention to it -- even then, we probably heed the warnings of daytime fatigue less than we should. Researchers do not know why, but humans definitely need to sleep. It is also known that the amount of sleep needed varies a great deal among individuals. Surveys show that 25-35 percent of the adult population has a sleep complaint. Further, poor sleep and the resulting daytime sleepiness play a major role in work-related accidents, traffic accidents and lost productivity.
There are more than 84 types of sleep disorders. Treatment depends upon the cause(s). Sleep problems can be caused by factors as benign as a change in living arrangements, or as serious as a brain disease or a tumor.
General guidelines for sleep hygiene:
- Set a regular time to go to bed —a key component to improving sleep— and adhere to this as closely as possible; if you cannot fall asleep within a reasonable period of time, get out of bed, leave the bedroom and do something non-stimulating (watching a late-night talk show or reading) and try again to fall asleep after 30-60 minutes; the idea is to not spend too much time in bed awake, as an association between the bed and an inability to fall asleep can increase the problem
- Establish a regular wake-up time; no matter how long it took to fall asleep, no matter how little sleep you have had, no matter how flexible the morning schedule is, do not allow the body to "sleep in"; this will only further confuse and disorganize the internal biological clock
- Make the sleep environment as comfortable as possible; make your bedroom dark and quiet; the temperature should not be either too hot or too cold; although minor fluctuations in room temperature and firmness of the mattress probably have little impact on sleep, extremes can be disturbing
- Omit alcohol and caffeine in the late afternoon and evening; for the very sensitive, caffeine intake may need to cease each day by noon; alcohol is often used as a self-treatment for relaxation and sleep induction, but it is disruptive to the sleep-wake cycle
- Develop a sleep habit using the bedroom primarily as a place to sleep; although many people use the bedroom for watching television, preparing work for the following day, eating snacks or paying bills, the person with a sleep problem needs to set the bedroom aside for sleep only
- Carefully time meals and exercise; in some individuals, a heavy meal late in the evening can severely disrupt sleep; heavy exercise too late in the evening also can lead to sleep difficulty
- Some people simply need to relax sufficiently to allow sleep to occur; relaxation tapes can facilitate this process
- As at least 35 percent of those with sleep difficulties have an identifiable psychological cause, some form of treatment should be considered
Consult your physician if sleeping problems persist. If you or someone you know appears to suffer from a sleep problem, call for help.