Identifying a Probable Cause
A lot of times sleep problems are related to mood problems, says Conroy. So you should ask yourself: Has my mood changed? Do I feel more depressed? Am I more irritable than usual?
If you're prone to worry, anxiety can be making your sleep worse. But sleep problems also develop without any associated mood problems.
Sometimes you can point to a primary stressor like losing a job or worrying about the mortgage. But there doesn't have to be a particular stressor associated with insomnia. Just worrying about sleep can snowball over time, says Conroy.
Other underlying reasons for insomnia include pain, medications, sleep disorders, and poor sleep habits.
What You Can Do
If you've noticed signs of insomnia and the problem has been going on for a few weeks, set up an appointment with your doctor to discuss your sleep concerns. If your doctor suspects an underlying sleep disorder like sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, he or she may refer you to a sleep specialist.
Keep a sleep log to see if you can identify any patterns to discuss with your doctor. Track when you go to bed, how long it takes you to fall asleep, how many times you awake at night, what time you get up, how you feel when you wake up, and if you take a nap during the day.
Depending on the cause of insomnia, your doctor may prescribe a sleep medication to provide short-term relief. He or she may also refer you to a mental health professional who practices cognitive behavioral techniques and other strategies to improve your sleep hygiene.
Sleep is important for your overall health and lack of sleep has been shown to contribute to illness, including heart disease and diabetes.
"We hear so much about diet and exercise," says Conroy. "Sleep is as important as your nutrition."
Boost Your Sleep Hygiene
Many Americans have poor sleep habits. Marks, the Atlanta psychiatrist,shares tips for getting a good night's sleep:
- Keep your bedtime the same each night (even on the weekend) for consistency's sake.
- Cut out caffeine, cigarettes, and alcohol 4-6 hours before bedtime.
- Don't exercise right before bed.
- Only use your bed for sleep and sex. Don't bring work or gadgets into bed.
- Adjust your thermostat to a comfortable temperature, usually 68-74 degrees.
- Turn the lights off and use eye covers to keep the room dark.
- If it's taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, don't stay in bed. Go to another quiet room and engage in relaxing activity until you feel drowsy.
- If your mind is busy, write down your thoughts on a problem-solving worksheet.