Sleeping Well in Hard Times

What You Can Do to Avoid Sleep Problems and Rest More Easily

From the WebMD Archives


Make Choices That Support Sound Sleep

Even in times of low stress we may not always make the best lifestyle choices to get sound sleep. So-called "sleep hygiene," or sleep habits, has a tremendous impact on our sleep, and their effects are magnified when living through highly stressful situations So paying careful attention to them now is very important.

Basic sleep hygiene, particularly in relation to temporary insomnia includes:

  • Consistently going to bed and waking up at the same times.
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.
  • Avoiding excessive daytime napping.
  • Consistently sleeping seven to eight hours a night, without daytime napping, regardless of fatigue or sleepiness, is critically important. Sleeping beyond your normal time or taking naps disrupts your natural circadian rhythm, or 24-hour cycle, and actually reinforces nighttime sleep difficulty.

Tame Nightmares

The images, sounds, and thoughts that bombard us during the day may play out in our sleep as nightmares. These dreams may be particularly vivid and intense, waking us up in a jolt, with our eyes wide open and heart pounding.

Treatments include reassurance from others, behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, or even medications that suppress REM (rapid eye movement sleep), when dreaming takes place.

Guided imagery has also proven effective. Here you essentially review your nightmare in detail but change the content to something desirable. This can greatly relieve the stress associated with the dreams and provide a sense of control.

Another technique involves a desensitization process, in which you are repeatedly asked to think specifically about those dreams or events that cause stress, in an effort to build a tolerance to them. The idea is that as you are repeatedly confronted with the stressful situation and do not experience ill or untoward effects, you no longer associate fear and anxiety with them.

Originally published April 3, 2003.

Medically updated Oct. 21, 2004.

SOURCE: Sleep Medicine, Kryger, Meir, et al., Third Edition, 2000.

Copyright 2004 Sound Sleep, LLC.