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HEALTH PLUS MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT

For millions of us, the pursuit of a good night’s rest has become a kind of dark obsession. The National Institutes of Health states that 70 million adults suffer from sleep difficulties. In a 2018 survey of the top health complaints, sleep issues have climbed to Number two. “It didn’t use to be in the top five,” says Mayo Clinic pulmonologist Timothy Morgenthaler, former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Now, the global COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on our lifestyle habits with quality sleep being one of them.

Thus, HEALTH PLUS continues from last week, increasing awareness and advice to optimise your Sleep Health.

Insomnia can take a heavy toll on your physical and mental health.

Skimping on quality sleep can impact one’s energy, focus, and ability to function during the day, especially if you have the added pressure of trying to work from home or of homeschooling your children. A lack of quality sleep can also make you moody and irritable, exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and depression, and even weaken your immune system.

Stress, worry, and turmoil created by this pandemic have made existing sleep challenges even worse, increasing ones “SLEEP DEBT”, triggering new sleep problems in those who used to be “good sleepers”. But by addressing these challenges, you can start the journey to end the frustration of lying awake for hours and finally get a good night’s rest.

Figuring out why you can’t sleep

To properly identify the cause of insomnia, you need to become a sleep detective. Once you figure out the root cause, you and your health care professional can tailor treatments accordingly.

• Are you under a lot of stress?

• Do you feel emotionally flat or hopeless?

• Do you struggle with chronic feelings of anxiety or worry?

• Have you recently gone through a traumatic experience?

• Are you taking any medications that might be affecting your sleep?

• Do you have any health problems that may be interfering with sleep?

• Is your sleep environment quiet and comfortable?

• Do you try to go to bed and get up around the same time every day?

Common psychological and medical causes of insomnia

Sometimes, insomnia only lasts a few days and goes away on its own, especially when the insomnia is tied to an obvious temporary cause, such as stress over an upcoming presentation, a painful breakup, or jet lag. Other times, insomnia is stubbornly persistent. Chronic insomnia is usually tied to an underlying mental or physical issue.

Anxiety, stress, and depression are some of the most common causes of chronic insomnia. Other common emotional and psychological causes include anger, worry, grief and trauma. Treating these underlying problems is essential to resolving your insomnia.

Medical problems or illness

These include asthma, allergies, Parkinson’s disease, hyperthyroidism, acid reflux, kidney disease, and cancer. Chronic pain is also a common cause of insomnia.

Medications

Many prescription drugs can interfere with sleep, including antidepressants, stimulants for ADHD, corticosteroids, thyroid hormone, high blood pressure medications, and some contraceptives. Common over-the-counter culprits include cold and flu medications that contain alcohol, pain relievers that contain caffeine and slimming pills.

Sleep disorders. Insomnia is itself a sleep disorder, but it can also be a symptom of other sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and circadian rhythm disturbances tied to jet lag or late-night shift work. [These will be further discussed in the upcoming articles in HEALTH PLUS]

Neutralising the vicious cycle of anxiety

The more trouble you have with sleep, the more it starts to invade your thoughts. You may dread going to sleep because you just know that you’re going to toss and turn for hours or wake up at 2am again. Or maybe you’re worried because you have a big day tomorrow, and if you don’t get a solid eight hours, you’re sure you’ll blow it. But agonising and expecting sleep difficulties only makes insomnia worse. Worrying about getting to sleep or how tired you’re going to be floods your body with adrenaline, and before you know it, you’re wide-awake.

Challenging self-defeating thoughts that fuel insomnia

It’s also helpful to challenge the negative attitudes about sleep and your insomnia problem that you’ve developed over time. The key is to recognise self-defeating thoughts and replace them with more realistic ones.

1) Self-defeating thought:

Unrealistic expectations: I should be able to sleep well every night like a normal person. I shouldn’t have a problem!

Sleep-promoting positive response: Lots of people struggle with sleep from time to time. I will be able to sleep with practice.

2) Self-defeating thought:

Exaggeration: It’s the same every single night, another night of sleepless misery.

Sleep-promoting positive response: Not every night is the same. Some nights I do sleep better than others.

3) Self-defeating thought:

Catastrophizing: If I don’t get some sleep, I’ll tank my presentation and jeopardise my job.

Sleep-promoting positive response: I can get through the presentation even if I’m tired. I can still rest and relax tonight, even if I can’t sleep.

4) Self-defeating thought:

Hopelessness: I’m never going to be able to sleep well. It’s out of my control.

Sleep-promoting positive response: Insomnia can be cured. If I stop worrying so much and focus on positive solutions, I can beat it.

5) Self-defeating thought:

Fortune telling: It’s going to take me at least an hour to get to sleep tonight. I just know it.

Sleep-promoting positive response: I don’t know what will happen tonight. Maybe I’ll get to sleep quickly if I use the strategies I’ve learned.

Remember, learning how to inculcate healthy sleep behaviours takes time and practice. Be patient and seek evaluation by a Sleep Health Professional. The support they can offer is invaluable. It starts firstly with identifying the triggers and being committed to adjust the unhealthy behaviours. Small steps can be extraordinarily rewarding when you awake the next day, finally feeling rested and revitalised.

Look out for HEALTH PLUS every Tuesday for more informative and healthful articles. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this topic, please email [email protected]