But it may not be just stress. According to the poll, 47 percent of the sleepless are very likely to use caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea and sodas during the day to compensate for their sleepiness and the use of artificial stimulants and insomnia are correlated. The majority of people who have difficulty sleeping report using those substances.
“Stress and anxiety can definitely impact sleep,” says Sunil Mathews, M.D., medical director of the Sleep Center at Baylor Medical Center at Irving. “And unfortunately, insomnia can turn into a vicious cycle.”
Dr. Mathews describes these habits as “poor sleep hygiene,” or behaviors that will delay sleep onset. Examples include going to bed at irregular times, watching TV late at night, exercising too close to bedtime, and of course consuming caffeine and alcohol.
Another aspect of poor sleep hygiene includes worrying while in bed.
“Some people can develop an unhealthy habit of using the bed to plan for the next day. The mind won’t shut down, which delays sleep onset.”
In desperation, these people may turn to sleep aids like pills. Unfortunately, these aids are short-term solutions at best and tend to cause next-day drowsiness and then prevent sleep the next night, unless another pill is taken, according to Dr. Mathews.
Besides affecting concentration, memory and mood, Dr. Mathews says sleep deprivation can “precipitate depression and sometimes make people think they’re suffering from other cognitive issues.”
One effect that can prove lethal: drowsy driving.
More than half of adults (54 percent) have driven when drowsy at least once in the past year. An alarming percentage of people (28 percent) say they’ve nodded off or fallen asleep at the wheel, according to an AAA study. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration attributes an estimated 76,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths each year at least in part to drowsy driving.
What can you do to break the cycle of sleeplessness? Dr. Mathews recommends good sleep hygiene habits.
• Don’t just throw yourself into bed after a hectic day and expect to fall asleep. Implement a relaxing bedtime routine that allows you to gently segue from your day to bedtime. Yoga, biofeedback and meditation can help relax both body and mind prior to sleep. Even a small glass of warm milk with nutmeg can help ease the passage from daytime activities to bedtime.
• Exercise regularly, but finish working out at least four or five hours before bedtime. Exercising raises core body temperature, which can delay sleep onset.
• Avoid caffeinated and sugary foods, as well as alcohol, for the eight hours prior to bedtime.
• Keep your bedroom dark, cool and quiet to ease your passage into sleep. Make sure that your sleeping area is comfortable.
• Keep a regular sleep schedule during both the week and weekend.
• Use your bedroom for sleep so that you don’t associate other daily activities with going to bed.
And remember, the economy, just like sleep, is a cycle, so when it’s bedtime, try to go with the flow.