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Having Trouble Sleeping?

We've got expert shut-eye solutions to six surprising sleep wreckers that might be keeping you up at night.
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WebMD Magazine - Feature

Ah, the insomniac's plight: waking up with a hangover without having had a drop to drink. A poor night's sleep can have you starting your day feeling drained before your feet even hit the floor. Other mornings, you could swear you got a peaceful eight hours, yet your body tells a different story.

Too many of us are missing out on sweet dreams. Nearly one-third of Americans say they lie awake at least a few nights each week. Getting a poor night's sleep means more than just a bad day ahead. The quality of your sleep can harm your health long-term; sleep deprivation is linked to obesity and high blood pressure, poor concentration, and lack of energy for exercising, healthy eating, and leisure activities.

Recommended Related to Sleep Disorders

When Your Partner Has a Sleep Disorder

When your partner has a sleep disorder, it's a good bet he or she is not the only one missing out on a good night's rest. More than likely, your sleep is being affected, too. In fact, having a partner with a sleep disorder can cause you to lose nearly one hour of sleep every night. That adds up to 12.5 full days of lost sleep each year. This loss of sleep can have a major impact on your health and well-being. In rare instances, such as with the flailing movements of REM (rapid eye movement) behavior...

Read the When Your Partner Has a Sleep Disorder article > >

Why are we having a hard time catching the zzz's we need? Here are six surprising sleep wreckers that might be keeping you up at night.

Stress and Sleep

Who's stressed? Who isn't? Three in four U.S. adults say they felt moderate to high stress levels in the past month, according to a 2009 stress survey conducted by the American Psychological Association. Even teenagers find that school and family finances are stressing them out, with nearly half of teens polled saying their worries have gotten worse over the past year. The result? Many of us hit the sheets with our minds still churning, too wound up to sleep.

"No one sleeps well with worries," says Joyce Walsleban, RN, PhD, associate professor of medicine at NYU's School of Medicine. "They are too alerting. They will either keep you up or wake you up later on."

Stress hormones shoulder some of the blame. When you're stressed out, your adrenal glands release hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which keep you amped up and struggling to snooze.

Completely eliminating stress and anxiety from your life isn't realistic. But learning how to place your worries up on a shelf for the night can help you manage them so they don't ruin your sleep. For starters, bar your work life -- a common cause of stress -- from your bedroom.

"We see people using BlackBerries and laptops in bed, answering emails, and continuing to do the work they do all day long. For people who suffer from insomnia, that can perpetuate it," says Alon Avidan, MD, associate professor of neurology and associate director of UCLA's Sleep Disorders Program.

Walsleban suggests giving your body time -- an hour or so -- to unwind before slipping into bed. Take a bath, read a good book (try fiction!), and learn to practice deep breathing and relaxation exercises to calm nerves and encourage a peaceful night's sleep.

Depression and Sleep

Insomnia and depression tend to go hand in hand, and it can be difficult to figure out which came first. In fact, research suggests that people with insomnia have 10 times the risk of developing depression as people who sleep well. And people who are depressed commonly struggle with insomnia, showing symptoms such as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up feeling rested. The brain chemical serotonin, which affects mood, emotion, sleep, and appetite, according to Walsleban, is one likely reason the two conditions travel in tandem.

Ironically, Avidan warns, a common class of medication used to treat depression -- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors -- sometimes causes sleep disorders, such as periodic limb movement disorder, which causes your legs to jerk while you sleep, or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder, in which people act out their dreams, punching, kicking, or jumping from bed while still asleep. Talk with your doctor about all possible medication side effects.

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You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or other conditions affecting your sleep.

Sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get too little sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping, have insomnia, or have other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep, since sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

You say you are able to function well with fewer than seven hours of sleep. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

It's good that you usually do get more sleep because sleep deprivation can have both short- and long-term consequences. Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. And if you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's not surprising you feel that you're not functioning at your best today. Some people say they can function on four to six hours of sleep each night, but research shows that adults who get fewer than seven hours of sleep — whether for just one night or over the course of days, weeks, or months — have more difficulty concentrating and more mood problems than people who sleep seven to nine hours.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have difficulty sleeping or have insomnia or other sleep disorders.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's important to keep your bedtime and routine consistent every night and wake up around the same time every morning.

Click here to read more about the importance of sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep this amount, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and wake time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Since you usually sleep longer, if you often aren't feeling your best, you should consider talking to your doctor. Could you have an underlying condition? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you taken medication that disrupted your sleep? Do you or could you have sleep apnea? Or do you naturally require a little bit more sleep?

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can also have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health. Whether your sleep routine involves taking a warm bath, reading a book, or meditating, it's also important to keep bedtime consistent and wake up around the same time every morning.

Although sleep is crucial for optimal health, some research suggests that sleeping too much can have negative consequences. Learn more about sleep. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's unfortunate you're not functioning at your best today. You say you had a good quantity of sleep last night, but maybe the quality of your sleep is not as good as it could be? Having a good sleep routine — including a consistent bedtime and waking up at the same time — often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, please talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia, another sleep disorder, or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

It's wonderful that you got a good night's sleep last night. Many people struggle to do so. Having a good sleep routine often is the key to getting the quality sleep night after night that your body needs for optimal health.

Since you usually get less sleep, talk to your doctor about your sleep patterns. Poor quality sleep can affect many areas of your life and health, and your doctor may be able to help you if you have insomnia or another sleep disorder or conditions affecting your sleep.

Learn more about the health consequences of sleep loss. If you're concerned about having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, assess your risk for a sleep disorder.

SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Effect of short sleep duration on daily activities--United States, 2005-2008. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2011; 60:239.

Carskadon, MA, Dement, WC. Normal Human Sleep: An Overview. In: Principles and Practices of Sleep Medicine, Fifth, Kryger, MH, Roth, et al. (Eds), Elsevier Saunders, St. Louis, MO 2011. p.16.

Harvard University: "Sleep, Performance, and Public Safety."

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