• The Sound Sleeper

Tame those sleep disturbances

While insomnia tends to get all the attention, there are a number of other sleep disturbances that may be stopping your slumber. Here are some common sleep stealers and suggestions for getting them under control.

Feeling the pain

Whether it’s from a medical condition or too much physical exertion, when you’re in pain, it’s harder to fall asleep or get quality sleep. Not only does your physical and mental functioning diminish, but your fatigue increases and your pain intensifies. The next night, it can be even harder to fall asleep, putting you in a cycle of sleep deprivation and worsening pain.

Getting a good night’s sleep helps you harness the healing properties of sleep and stop pain and discomfort from perpetuating the cycle. If you’re dealing with chronic pain from a medical condition, be sure to discuss solutions with your physician. Temporary pain may be alleviated with an over-the-counter pain reliever, but be sure to consult your doctor if it lasts more than a few days.

What we eat and drink matters

Be aware of what and when you’re eating and drinking — your diet can have a big impact on your sleep.

Eating a healthy breakfast and consuming more of your calories before 3 p.m. can help your sleep and may even help you lose weight. Avoid eating three to four hours before you go to bed, and stay away from heavy, spicy, greasy and sugary foods. Indigestion from a heavy meal and an energy spike from sugar are not sleep compatible.

Caffeine and alcohol stay in your system much longer than you think. To avoid disrupting your sleep, don’t drink caffeinated beverages at least seven hours before bedtime; avoid alcoholic beverages three hours before.

If you must have a late night snack, stick with a small portion of something healthy such as a banana and nuts.

Snoring is more common than you think

There are many possible reasons for snoring — excessive weight, aging, alcohol consumption, back sleeping, nose and throat conditions. Snoring is widespread, affecting men, women and children, but its severity and health implications can vary. It can be occasional and unconcerning or it may indicate a serious sleep-related breathing disorder. Here are some warning signs that warrant a discussion with your physician:

  • Snoring that occurs three or more times per week, especially with gasping, choking or snorting sounds (check with your bed partner or use a recording device)
  • Obesity or recent weight gain
  • Daytime drowsiness
  • High blood pressure
  • Nighttime teeth grinding
  • Frequent nighttime urination

Restless legs are a recognized disorder

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological sleep disorder characterized by uncomfortable and painful sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them. These sensations can be described as itching, burning, throbbing and a crawling feeling along the legs.

While RLS can’t always be cured, it can be managed. Severe RLS may have a treatable component, so talk to your doctor. You may find that massaging your legs, taking a warm bath and using heating pads or ice packs can help. Lifestyle changes can also be effective: avoiding or decreasing alcohol, nicotine and caffeine consumption and practicing daily moderate exercise.

Sources: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, The Sleep Foundation, Garaulet, M., et al. (2013) Internat J Obesity.

Consistent sleep loss increases your risk of obesity by 70%

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