What To Do About Insomnia

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A lot of people suffer from insomnia, and they say to themselves, "I know what this is, but I can't do anything about it." However, consider the toll insomnia takes on your life, the effect it has on your family, your ability to work at a high level, and to socialize with others. The consequences are so enormous that it's important to do something about it. According to Dr. Neil B. Kavey, MD, is Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at The New York-Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, no matter what the cause of your insomnia, it's important to get on a good behavior program that pays attention to periods of relaxation. Dr. Kavey suggests three steps; first, set your bedtime and your wake-up time according to the number of hours of sleep you are getting currently. For example, if you are sleeping only five hours a night (even though you usually plan to spend eight hours in bed), set your sleep time for that amount. Then gradually increase the amount of time allotted for sleep by 15 minutes or so every few nights. The idea is to "squeeze out" the middle of the nighttime awakening and gradually increase the amount of sleep you will get during the night. Secondly, spend some time "winding down." A person with insomnia needs a "buffer zone," a period of time to allow the activating processes in the brain to wind down to allow the alerting mechanisms to decrease their activity so that the sleep systems can take over. Start winding down two hours before bedtime. Stop all work and end phone calls to family and friends, as often they are activating. Watching television is all right in the evening. However, an hour before bed, Dr. Kavey recommends reading or listening to music. Finally, focus on conditioning yourself for different sleep behavior. Insomnia is painful for people—it can take control of their lives. When someone suffering from insomnia walks into their bedroom, they often feel anxious, uncomfortable and tense, as they know from their experience that they might spend the night tossing and turning. They need to set up a situation so that they like going to their bedroom. The bedroom should be visually pleasing and very comfortable. One should use the bedroom only for sleep, sex, and changing clothes, pleasant activities, and if awake in the night should leave the bed and bedroom and spend "unpleasant" times awake in another room. "Waking" activities such as working on the computer, talking with one's partner, talking on the phone and watching TV should take place out of the bedroom. It's important to recognize that transient insomnias are very common. A night or two of insomnia may not be much of a problem for most people. But if insomnia persists for days and has an impact on the way you feel during the day, you should think about speaking to your doctor or health-care provider. If the problem persists, you might need to turn to a board certified sleep expert. Dr. Neil B. Kavey is Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at The New York-Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. He has been practicing sleep medicine since 1973. You can read more about his advice for insomniacs and learn how to manage this sleep disorder.