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Insomnia (Sleepless Nights)

Insomnia: Frequently Asked Questions

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - 10:03

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Here are some frequently asked questions related to insomnia.

Q: What is the right amount of sleep I should get?

A: Since everyone has different sleep needs, there is no "correct" amount of sleep. On average, most people need between seven and nine hours of good quality sleep each night in order to feel alert the next day. But some function perfectly well with only four or five hours a night. The key to healthy sleeping seems to be a consistent pattern, rather than the number of hours one sleeps.

Q: How can I tell if I am getting enough sleep?

A: Here are some simple questions to ask yourself to test for sleepiness:

  • Do I need to set an alarm clock in order to wake up in the morning?
  • If so, do I usually press the snooze button?
  • Do I feel like I need a nap during the day?
  • Do I fall asleep while watching TV?
  • Does reading a book make me feel sleepy?

If you answer yes to more than one of these questions, you are not getting enough quality sleep to meet your needs.

Q: What can I do to avoid insomnia?

A: Here are some rules to abide by:

  • Don't exercise just before going to bed.
  • Don't read or watch television in bed.
  • Don't use alcohol to help you sleep.
  • Don't take another person's sleeping pills.
  • Don't partake in stimulating activities just before bed.
  • Avoid all foods and drinks containing caffeine close to bedtime.
  • Don't lie in bed fretting. If you can't sleep, get up and do some quiet activity. Only return to bed when you are sleepy. Do this as many times in a night as necessary.

Q: Does insomnia ever go away on its own?

A: Sometimes insomnia does go away on its own. Usually this happens with short-term insomnia that is due to some temporary stress in your life. When it persists, however, it may be a sign of another illness, such as anxiety or depression, and you should seek treatment.

Q: What is REM sleep and why is it important?

A: REM sleep stands for rapid eye movement sleep. For most of the night, our eyes are still. However, every so often the eyeballs of a sleeping person will make rapid side-to-side movements under the lids. People woken up during these times report that they have been dreaming. During REM sleep the muscles of the body are very relaxed and movements are difficult. Some believe this semi-paralysis of the muscles stops us from walking around or otherwise acting out the scenes being played out in our dreams. Although adults spend only a fifth of the night in REM sleep, a newborn baby may spend half of its sleep in this stage. Some studies suggest that REM sleep is particularly useful for growth and repair of the brain itself, while the other type of deep, or slow-wave, sleep is useful for repair of the rest of the body.

Q: Why is alcohol detrimental to sleep?

A: After we have had a few drinks, alcohol often causes drowsiness and lets us get off to sleep quite easily. Later in the night, however, when the alcohol level in our blood decreases, our body's arousal mechanism is stimulated and our normal sleep pattern is impaired. In addition, one of the effects of alcohol is to stimulate the pouring of adrenalin into the bloodstream, causing arousal, sweating and palpitations. This can result in waking up half-way through the night, or earlier than normal, with the heart pounding, making it quite difficult to get to sleep again.

Q: Will my insurance pay for a sleep study?

A: Most authorized sleep studies are considered medical procedures and are covered by most insurance companies, including Medicare. Check with your insurance provider to determine if your policy covers a sleep study.

Insomnia (Sleepless Nights)