Beacon of HOPE Wellness Committee: Do you have trouble sleeping?

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If you do, you're not alone. Studies show that 30-40% of people will have significant insomnia at some point in their lives. It could be tossing and turning a night or two a week up to chronic insomnia, which is when you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at least 3 nights a week for 3 months.

We know that sleep is an important part of being healthy and feeling good. Dr. Lawrence Epstein of Harvard Medical School says that those who don't get enough sleep are more likely to develop diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Insufficient sleep is associated with weight gain. Lack of sleep affects your thinking, reaction time, memory, concentration and your physical functioning.

So what is considered a good night's sleep? In general, it's between 6 and 9 hours a night. The ultimate guideline for determining how much sleep you need is how rested you feel during the day.

Why aren't you sleeping well? Identify any factors that may be affecting your sleep. Look at your medications. Do you have chronic problems such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, B12 deficiency, lung problems, heartburn. See your doctor and discuss these issues.

It is a general consensus among specialists that insomnia is best treated without drugs. Sleeping pills should generally be used for only four to six weeks.

So what can we do to get a good night's sleep?

1. Create rituals around sleep.

Make a habit of going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. This consistency reinforces your body's natural sleep-wake cycle. If you get enough sleep you shouldn't need an alarm clock. If you're tired in the morning, avoid sleeping in. Take a nap of 15-30 minutes in early afternoon instead.

Get in the habit of doing the same thing before bed each night -- such as a bath or shower, reading, yoga, calm music. Television, computers and smart phones should be turned off for about an hour before bed. They stimulate your brain and won't let it rest.

One suggestion if you have a lot of worries or concerns, write them down before going into the bedroom. (You are putting them aside for tomorrow -- gives your mind and emotions time to rest).

2. Keep your bedroom dark, cool and quiet. Use it only for sleep or sex. Get in bed. Focus your attention on sinking into the pillow, slowing your breathing, the sensations of becoming at rest.

If you don't fall asleep in 15-20 minutes, get up, get out of the bedroom and do something relaxing -- not TV or eating. Go back when you feel drowsy.

3. Eat dinner several hours before bed. Keep bedtime snacks small.

4. Be careful of alcohol, caffeinated beverages, spicy foods. Be aware of how they affect you. They may affect going to sleep or staying asleep.

5. Exercise and stay active.

These are things you can do to improve your sleep. It's time to take charge of your life.

The Beacon of HOPE is located at 5090 Doug Taylor Circle, St. James City. Call 239-283-5123.

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