Are You Sleepless in Seattle?
Recently, we read about Tom Brokaw who was hospitalized after appearing on a morning TV show. He had mistakenly taken Ambien (a prescription sleep medication) in the early morning. Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert F Kennedy, was arrested for a DUI this summer and apparently had also taken Ambien without realizing it. What is this all about?
Americans are having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. And they are turning to pills for help. In 2008, there were over 56 million prescriptions for sleeping medication!
While most adults and teens may have trouble falling asleep from time to time, there appears to be widespread chronic sleeplessness in our society. And there also seems to be an epidemic of sleeping disorders, such as sleep apnea (a sleep disturbance characterized by loud snoring and disruptions in breathing), that is often related to obesity. What is this all about? What approaches make sense? What are the risks of prescription sleeping aids?
There are many reasons for insomnia and early morning awakening. In many ways, in the 21st century, we have created a world that we cannot comfortably live in. For example, in order to sleep well, adults and children have to maintain a certain level of physical activity. The US Center for Disease Control says that the minimum amount of activity for adults should be 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise (e.g. brisk walking) and 2 periods per week of muscle strengthening exercises. In 2010, only 20% of United State adults met these bare minimums. No wonder so many adults don’t sleep well!
Decreased exercise can also lead to increased weight gain. It is certainly a major contributing factor for the over 60% of overweight adults in our country. And weight gain in adulthood can result in sleep apnea. According to NIH, about half of adults with sleep apnea are overweight.
Increased anxiety and stress is another cause of sleeping problems. Anxiety disorders (which are more severe forms of worry and anxiety) impact over 40 million adults. But the incidence of increased stress and worry has risen too and that can impact the sleep of both adults and kids.
And, as we grow older, our sleep is more easily disturbed. Men and women get up more frequently to go to the bathroom, and we tend to have less deep sleep than younger adults. Many adults over 50 complain about frequent nighttime awakening—and then may have trouble falling back asleep. I remember those days of sleeping through the night fondly—but it is a rare event for me.
What’s worse is that fear about having a bad night of sleep can keep adults awake! In order to fall asleep, you must have a certain level of calm—worry about getting a good night of sleep can keep you up.
Because we are all looking for a quick fix—we may turn to both prescription and non-prescription sleep aids. But these solutions can also cause problems. There can be side effects (day time drowsiness, depression, forgetfulness, or dry mouth), drug dependence (increasing dose or inability to fall asleep without medication), withdrawal symptoms (nausea, headache, or shakiness), or rebound insomnia (when you stop taking these medication your insomnia worsens). While periodic use for a day or two while traveling or for some other reason may be fine, chronic use can cause some of the above problems. And of course your doctor may prescribe long-term sleeping medications for certain medical conditions.
So what can we do?
Strive for a more balanced life.This is so hard in our lop-sided world! Getting regular exercise is not part of our everyday lives. When was the last time you walked to the post office, supermarket, or coffee shop? Time for rest, relaxation, listening to music, reading, prayer and simple reflection seems to be in opposition to ferrying our children to and from activities, working 40 plus hours, laundry, cooking, cleaning and everything else.
Practice good sleep habits. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, limit stimulating activities an hour or so before going to bed, avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening, don’t use alcohol to fall asleep, get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep, and don’t be too concerned if you miss some sleep.
What helps you get a good night’s rest?