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Last time we looked at the link between insomnia and depression.  So how do you deal with it?

The range of how much sleep adults need varies.  Some people get by with as little as 5 hours of sleep each night, while others need 9 or 10 hours.  6-7 hours is a good standard for most people.

What kinds of things disrupt sleep?  Among the culprits:

  • Too much caffeine or nicotine.
  • Alcohol or recreational drugs.
  • Poor sleep hygiene:  a noisy environment, or one where lights are too bright.
  • Going to bed before you’re really ready to do so.
  • Staring into a computer screen until minutes before attempting sleep.
  • Falling asleep on the couch in front of the TV; it gets you out of the habit of sleeping in bed.

Sleep problems often start before we get to the bedroom.  We are all busy nowadays.  If you are working late and then going to the gym and grabbing a bite to eat right within a couple of hours of bedtime, you may be setting yourself up for sleeplessness.

It isn’t unusual to bring work home from the office, or to spend free time catching up on communication with friends by sitting in front of the computer in the evening.  A computer monitor may look like a television screen, but we use them differently.  Staring intently at a computer monitor at a distance much closer than most of us would ever watch TV can be anything but relaxing.  Our brain takes in the monitor’s brightness and gets confused about day and night.

At other times, the bedroom itself is the problem.  Sleeping with pets can be cozy, but a cat that sleeps near your face or a retriever that hogs the bed makes for a less than sleepful night.  Ideally, your bedroom should be orderly enough that it’s comfortable, with enough ventilation and be at a proper temperature.  Too much noise or intrusive light is likely to be a problem; consider eliminating clocks or electronics with LEDs if they are too bright.  You might want to add a sound machine or fan to create restful background noise.  And you have a good mattress, right?

What can help?

  • Eliminate caffeine, or at least don’t consume any after noon.
  • Get exercise, but not right before bed.
  • Avoid naps.
  • Meditation and relaxation exercises can help.
  • Regularize your sleep patterns.  Aim for hitting the sack and waking up at roughly the same time each night to establish healthy habits.
  • Don’t eat or drink right too close to bedtime.
  • Reading a book or watching television before bed is relaxing for many people.  Try choosing something restful.

Because insomnia can both cause and result from depression, taking a look at the role of stress and mood in your life is always a good idea.  A therapist can help unravel the stress knot and get your life moving in a better direction.  You don’t want sleep problems and mood problems to feed off each other in a way that makes each difficulty worse.

If you continue to have problems, talk with your physician about whether you need medication.  Sleep medication isn’t a panacea, but there are good options for getting help.  If you choose to take medication for sleep, be certain you understand how to use it properly.  Some people find that herbs like valerian root are a good alternative.

If none of these things help, consider a sleep study.  Getting treatment for a sleep disorder can be truly life changing.