Early to bed and early to rise

Published 2:08 pm Monday, March 14, 2022

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The last two years dealing with the pandemic and celebrating my last year in my forties have yielded some sleepless nights for me. And in researching sleep disorders, I’ve learned that I’m not alone. Ponder these statistics in recognition of National Sleep Awareness Week:


  • 30% of American adults have short-term insomnia
  • 75% of people with depression suffer from insomnia
  • 30% of adult females have sleep disrupted by menstrual cycles
  • 74.8% of all COVID-19 patients experienced insomnia
  • 75% of the elderly population has insomnia symptoms
  • 2.28% of the US GDP is lost because of sleep deprivation


Insomnia is a sleep disorder where people have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Untreated insomnia can lead to severe health complications and increased car accidents.


Seventy million people in the US experience sleep disorders. 30% have short-term insomnia, and 10% have long-term insomnia. 70% of adults have trouble sleeping at least one night a month, and 11% are not getting adequate sleep every night. Our bodies don’t function well without sufficient sleep. Brain neurons are overworked, our thinking is impaired, and we experience slowed physical reactions. 


There are three types of insomnia: Acute insomnia lasts for up to a month and is caused by short-term stress factors. Transient insomnia lasts for less than a week. It’s caused by short-lived stressors like changes in your sleep environment. And chronic insomnia is long-term in nature and caused by chronic conditions.  




Sleep deprivation can have a multitude of effects on our bodies. For example, our bodies use sleep time to rebuild and repair itself. Poor sleep, for example, can disrupt the immune system defenses, making us more susceptible to common illnesses. And if you’re a regular reader of my articles, you know how often I mention the lack of sleep as a contributor to poor health.


Sleepless Drivers: Drivers that receive under five hours of sleep a day are five times more likely to have a car crash. Insomnia causes sleepiness, attention lapses, and the slowing of reaction times.


Diabetes: Fifty percent of people with type 2 diabetes have sleep problems. Unstable blood sugar levels, stress, and depression linked to the disease may keep you awake.


Low Libido: Good sleep habits may be all that you need to boost your sex life. We know that sleep deficiencies impact testosterone levels, lowering your sexual desire and increasing erectile dysfunction.




Diagnosing insomnia may include a physical exam to look for the medical causes of your sleeplessness. Your provider may order a blood test to rule out thyroid problems. Sleep habit review documents your sleep-wake patterns, and a diary of your sleep habits establishes those habits. Lastly, a sleep study may help identify sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. During a sleep study, recording your breathing, brain waves, heart rate, eye movement, and body movement help to identify other issues.


Treating insomnia is accomplished in several ways: medication, stimulus control, relaxation techniques, cognitive behavior therapy or a combination of the above. Unfortunately, there’s no “best treatment,” and specific treatments depend on the types of insomnia and your medical history.


Cognitive Behavior Therapy for insomnia is the first line of treatment because it does not have the health risks associated with medication. This treatment focuses on identifying people’s anxieties about sleep and them with healthier attitudes. 


Moderate to intense exercise increases sleep quality by reducing the time people lie awake in bed and may reduce the need to use sleep medications. 


Prolonged-release melatonin is the release of the hormone in the gut. It’s a hormone supplement administered orally and slow-released to circulate in your system for 8–10 hours.


Stimulus Control is another useful method. Suppose you’ve tried for 20 minutes to fall asleep in bed. In that case, Stimulus control suggests that you get up and do something that usually relaxes you. When you feel sleepy, go to bed and try to fall asleep. I have found this to be personally very effective.


Sleep restriction and compression improve sleep quality by reducing the amount of time a person lies in bed. Sleep restriction dramatically reduces time in bed. In comparison, sleep compression is a more gradual approach.


Relaxation techniques include breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, and meditation that help with blood pressure, heart rates, and other sleep metrics.


Medication. Consult with your provider before taking any medication for insomnia. Medication is often the last resort after stimulus control, relaxation techniques, and other CBT-i methods have failed to improve your sleep habits. 


Count Sheep. Well, not really, but writing “to-do” lists help people fall asleep on average nine minutes faster. Making lists is another personal favorite of mine. As a “list maker,” I find if I can organize my thoughts into a list, I don’t stay awake thinking through all I need to do.


If you’re having trouble sleeping, you’re not alone. One-third of us sleep less than six hours each night, compared to a century ago, when Americans received nine hours of restorative sleep every night. Experts are warning that this sleep shortage is a looming public health crisis. So get more sleep; your health may depend on it.


Dale Carnegie said “If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.” I am not sure I agree fully with Dale, as I think the lack of sleep does get you as well but worry continues the cycle. Here’s hoping the tips we have shared today help you as they have helped me. May you and I both have a restful night of sleep ahead tonight!


If you have a healthcare topic of interest or a question, send me a note at Michelle.Fortune@slhnc.org. Also, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or visit StLukesNC.org to learn about top-rated St. Luke’s Hospital and our new world-class services.