Between 35 and 45 percent of Americans unintentionally fell asleep during the day at least once in the past month and nearly 5 percent fell asleep while driving during the past month according to official reports.
And these are just the ones who admit it. During the holiday season, toss in a little too much to eat and drink, family gatherings with “loved” ones and financial woes from playing Santa, and these numbers can only get worse.
Some of the problems are due to all the technology and 24/7 access. We work and play until we drop. There is always something on line to catch up on or check out. Added to that are an estimated 50 to 70 million American adults who have sleep or wakefulness disorders.
A lack of sleep is a bigger problem of course than just being tired. People with insomnia are four times as likely to suffer from depression and are at greater risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes. It causes more time lost at work and lowers enjoyment overall.
Polls by the National Sleep Foundation show that 48 percent of Americans report insomnia occasionally and 22 percent experience insomnia just about every night. A quarter of Americans are taking a sleep aid to help them nod off.
I’d like to talk about insomnia from another point of view. Here are some things you can do to help you sleep without popping a pill.
1. Don’t Watch the Late News. Several months ago I wrote an article for My Menopause Magazine Issue 2 called “Ban The Evening News.” In that article I wrote about all the negative things that are typically reported on the evening news: rapes, murders, bombings, financial problems and other heartaches.
This type of negative input just before bedtime plants a seed of thought; our brains like to process the last things we think about. It’s called dream incubation and is often used by people intentionally to problem-solve. For a more restful sleep, wind down at least two hours before bedtime — no TV or computers. Instead listen to relaxing music, take a relaxing bath, read a relaxing book or have a relaxing talk with friends. Note the frequent use of the word relaxing?
2. Use associative activation to connect going to bed with a positive experience. In this process, ideas that have been evoked trigger many other ideas. It’s very complex neuroscience, but as a simple example, you link together two words, like “bed” and “happy.” Your brain starts to involuntarily make a story of this. And in a very amazing, virtually immediate sequence of events, your brain takes this nugget of a thought and creates a ripple affect that becomes the story your brain is telling you. Think of positive words or phrases at bedtime to associate your slumber with good things.
3. Prime your brain to lower anxiety and sleep better. In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize laureate Daniel Kahneman describes this process in great detail. He tells of one experiment in which the participants were told they were testing the quality of audio equipment. They were instructed to move their heads to check for distortions of sound and half were instructed to nod their heads up and down while the other half were directed to shake their heads from side to side. The ones who nodded up and down tended to feel favorable about the editorials they heard during the experiment. In contrast, the ones who shook their heads from side to side tended to reject the editorial hypothesis. Once again, positive actions lead to positive behaviors. So engage in things you enjoy doing before bedtime and don’t work on frustrating details just before going to bed.
In addition to these approaches, here are four other tools to help you sleep.
4. Use good sleep hygiene. That means going to bed at the same time each night, avoiding large meals before bedtime and not using caffeine, alcohol or nicotine near bedtime.
5. Keep your room cooler
6. Use room darkening shades
7. Dock your problems. Keep a pad and pen by the bedside. If something comes to mind or you have a gnawing problem, don’t keep it in your head. Write it down on the paper on your night table and dock it there. That way you don’t have to worry about forgetting it in the morning. Docking helps you drift off and helps avoid negative priming I discussed above.
Try these out and you may be surprised at the positive impact they have on you. I hope you are nodding your head up and down while you are reading this blog!