Insomnia can be one of the symptoms of anxiety, depression, or stress, or it can be caused by a medical problem. Overcoming the underlying cause of these disorders is essential to improving the quality of sleep, but attention to nutrition and other aspects of sleep hygiene can also help.
Obesity may interfere with sleep if it affects breathing. Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which a pattern of loud snoring builds to a crescendo, after which the person stops breathing and awakens briefly. It is more common in overweight people, especially middle-aged men. People with obstructive apnea can stop breathing for 10 seconds or longer a hundred or more times a night.
Muscle cramps and restless legs, a vague discomfort relieved only by moving the legs, can also interfere with sleep.
A Good Night’s Sleep Problem Solver
- Keep a sleep log for several weeks to help identify activities and behavior that may interfere with your sleep. Each day, write down the times you wake up and go to bed, and when you drink caffeinated beverages, exercise, and take naps.
- Exercise regularly, preferably in the late afternoon. Do not exercise strenuously within 2 or 3 hours of bedtime, as this may impair your ability to fall asleep.
- Don’t take a long nap during the day; this may make it more difficult to fall asleep at night.
- Eat at regular times during the day, and avoid a heavy meal close to bedtime.
- After lunch, stay away from anything that contains caffeine.
- Don’t smoke; if you can’t quit, at least try not to smoke for an hour or two before bedtime.
- Avoid excessive mental stimulation before bedtime.
- Establish a schedule to help regulate your body’s inner clock. Go to bed and get up at about the same times every day, and follow the same bedtime preparations each night to create a sleep ritual.
- A warm bath or a few minutes of reading in bed, listening to soothing music, or meditating are all useful sleep rituals. Try each one to see what works for you.
- Keep your bedroom dark and quiet. If you can’t block outside noise, mask it with an inside noise, such as the hum of a fan.
- Use your bedroom only for sleeping, not for working or watching TV.
- Wear nightclothes that are loose-fitting and comfortable.
- If your worries keep you awake at night, deal with them some other time. Devote 30 minutes after dinner to writing down problems and possible solutions, and then try to set them aside.
- If you can’t sleep, don’t stay in bed fretting for more than 15 minutes or so. Get up, go to another room, and read or watch TV until you are sleepy. Be sure to get up at your regular time the next day.