Sleep problems: what factors prevent us from sleeping and how to fight them

We will all agree that sleeping is a pleasure, but it is also one of the basic bodily functions of our body. While we sleep, fundamental regulation and recovery functions are fulfilled. Thanks to sleep we recover from the physical and mental wear and tear that our daily activity entails. In fact, sleeping is so important that under normal conditions, we spend a third of the day in bed. When we have trouble sleeping on a recurring basis, our physical, cognitive and mood state will be affected negatively.

Although the most common is that it is sufficient to sleep between seven and eight hours a day, sleep needs vary greatly depending on various factors. Next, we will list some of them and how they affect us at bedtime.

  • The age. The phrase “sleep like a baby” is well justified, because when we are born we can sleep 18 hours a day, decreasing the number of hours we need to sleep as the age progresses. It is from the age of 20 when the sleep needs remain more constant until reaching the third age where the need to sleep is reduced to about six hours and the depth and continuity of sleep are affected. At this stage, sleeping less and having more awakenings during the night would be normal.
  • The gender. Insomnia problems affect more women than men.
  • The vital situation and specific stressors. Situations such as the change of address or the birth of children will affect the hours we can devote to sleep. Stressors, such as a work project or being in exam time, can cause us worse rest due to having less time to sleep and the level of activation accumulated during the day. These states of change and stress are usually accompanied by worries that will make it difficult for us to sleep if we go to bed with them; therefore, be careful with consulting things to the pillow.
  • Physical problems. Having acute or chronic diseases are factors that predict worse nighttime rest. In fact, the experience of pain usually gets worse at night and is one of the conditions that most accompanies sleep problems. A special case is obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, which is a form of breathing-related sleep disorder. Headaches, warranty irritation and intense snoring indicate the presence of this syndrome in which the airways are blocked.
  • Changes in usual routines. Shift changes at work, trips to countries with different time zones or transitions involving holiday periods can affect our usual sleep rhythm. In fact, any habit that involves having an irregular sleep schedule is a risk factor for insomnia.
  • Mood. Insomnia is one of the symptoms present in mood disorders such as depression and generalized anxiety. It is important to know that untreated insomnia is a risk factor for relapse in a person who has suffered from depression.

These are just some of the factors that can influence the quantity and quality of our sleep, but we must bear in mind that they act differently in each person. It is normal that throughout our life we ​​go through periods in which some of these factors prevent us from resting, but the problem comes when this lack of sleep is perpetuated over time.

To prevent this from happening or reverse the problem once established, we have various treatments. One of the most used are the drugs that, although its use is widespread and have some advantages, they really do not solve the problem. Benzodiazepines are an immediate relief that usually has consequences when you stop using them: the dreaded rebound effect and the risk of dependence.

One of the treatments with more evidence is the relaxation techniques. One of the most studied is Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation. These strategies reduce the high level of activation that prevents us from falling asleep at night.

Ideally, combine strategies such as relaxation with other behavioral techniques such as stimulus control. This technique is based on some recommendations, such as lying down only when you are sleepy without staying more than 15 or 20 minutes awake in bed, having regular hours of going to sleep or using the bedroom just for sleeping, and not to perform Other activities like watching TV.

Then, we will stop a little more in the sleep hygiene guidelines that try to modify our inappropriate habits and the environmental factors that our night rest problems may be maintaining:

  • Caffeine. Do not drink stimulating drinks during the evening.
  • Alcohol. Drinking alcoholic drinks usually causes us to have more nightmares and waking up during the second half of the night.
  • Feeding. Avoid heavy dinners.
  • Sport. Exercise during the day can help us have a better rest, provided we do not practice it a few hours before bedtime.
  • Nicotine. It has a stimulating effect, so smoking is not recommended just before going to bed.
  • Room conditions. Control aspects such as temperature or noise.
  • Phones and tablets. Exposure to light of these devices can make it difficult to catch sleep. Being answering emails or messages before bed can make us turn our heads to various issues that prevent us from resting.

Sometimes, complying with these simple guidelines that establish adequate habits and routines we will be able to recover a normalized dream. However, for the most chronic and complex insomnia problems, the help of a mental health professional who assesses our sleep and the factors that may be affecting it may be necessary to propose an appropriate treatment for our situation.

Psychology Service

California University Hospital

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