In the United States, 10 percent of people have chronic insomnia. The trouble is, lack of snooze time can cause more than just grogginess. “Sleep deprivation can lead to impaired cognition and memory,” says Dr. Barry Rotman, a John Muir Health internist. “It’s also strongly linked to obstructive sleep apnea and even stroke and heart attack. And there’s budding epidemiologic evidence that it’s linked to increased cancer risk, obesity and depression.”
Insomnia can strike at various times in your life for different reasons. Tempted to pop a pill? Talk to your doctor about a more holistic approach instead, advises Rotman. “Insomnia is really one manifestation of a hyperarousal state that occurs across various body processes 24/7,” he says. “Your body is out of balance, and correcting that can help you sleep better.”
To promote sleep, keep a regular sleeping schedule, exercise, and avoid alcohol and caffeine after lunch. Also, make sure your bedroom is comfortable (not too hot or cold), and hide your alarm clock. If you aren’t snoozing within 20 minutes, leave the room and try again later. Also, ask your doctor questions to help uncover the root of your insomnia: Could an undiagnosed illness be the cause? Or your medication?
For new moms, a full night’s sleep is a rarity. And while waking frequently to tend to a baby isn’t actually insomnia, it does rob you of sleep. “This is usually unavoidable given the demands of being a loving mom,” says Rotman. “Don’t be afraid to seek resources to support you.”
Sleeplessness can also crop up during perimenopause, when hormonal shifts occur. Ask your doctor about positive lifestyle changes you can make. Acupuncture and herbs like black cohosh can also help, advises Rotman, who practices a mix of Western and Eastern medicine.
In our senior years, we’re more likely to develop risk factors for insomnia such as asthma, chronic pain and use of certain medications. Ask your doctor about solutions, such as changing medications. Taking a nap before 2 p.m. is also a good way to log valuable sleep.
No matter your age, what’s most important is pinpointing the true cause of your insomnia. “Looking at all aspects of your life and addressing problems,” says Rotman, “can really help you sleep better.”