3 Real Women With 3 Real Sleep Problems

We asked WebMD's sleep expert to help these tired ladies learn to get some shut-eye again.

From the WebMD Archives


The Sleep Doctor's Rx for Insomnia

When we asked Michael Breus, PhD -- WebMD's Sleep Expert -- for advice on Stewart's insomnia, he noted that "an inability to sleep at night is like not being able to breathe. Lack of sleep starves a person of the energy she needs to perform well, stay healthy, and enjoy life. Over time, the more sleep Stewart misses, the higher her likelihood of developing heart disease, diabetes, and depression."

Breus' advice for Stewart focused on making simple lifestyle changes and maximizing her mental health to jump-start her sleep. To do that, he said, she should:

Say no to joe. "Stewart should start by cutting back on caffeine -- a central nervous system stimulant that winds the body up and gets in the way of sleep," Breus says. "A good rule is to avoid any caffeine after 2:30 in the afternoon. That way it will have eight or nine hours to clear her system before she winds down for the night."

Balance it out. Next, "she needs to find more balance in her life, especially between career and family," Breus advised. "Working overtime as a nurse should be the exception, not the rule, and time with her family should focus on quality. She can’t do that if she’s overbooked and stressed."

Make life changes. Breus also noted that some of Stewart's habits need to change. "Instead of logging on in the evening, she should 'power down' and move her mind closer to a sleep state by shutting off the TV an hour before bed, not working on the computer, and dimming the lights to relax," Breus says. Too much light and mental stimulus signals the neurons in the brain that help control the sleep-wake cycle to stay active.

"And there’s nothing wrong with asking for help," he added. "As a working mom juggling a career, a marriage, and two kids, Stewart should ask her husband to pitch in during the evening so they can both relax their way into a restful night’s sleep.

Try therapy. Finally, Breus said, Stewart might try cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches a person how to recognize certain thoughts and situations that dictate behavior. "In Stewart’s case, it could change the shut-eye habits and nighttime routines that might be getting in the way of her slumber," Breus adds. "This type of therapy can be more effective than sleeping pills -- with better results that last longer."