Reducing Your Risk of Insomnia

Insomnia can occur in response to a behavioral, physical, or mental health issue. Physical, psychological, environmental, and modifiable lifestyle factors can all play a role in preventing the condition, or alleviating the symptoms if it occurs.

Treat Underlying Disease

Chronic disease and pain can cause insomnia for a variety of reasons. Diseases or conditions that may disrupt sleep include:

Discuss with your healthcare provider whether these conditions or any other physical problems can be treated. Proper and timely treatment for these conditions can reduce symptoms and often lead to an improved night’s sleep.

Avoid Certain Medications

Certain medications can cause sleeping difficulties as a side effect. Having to take one or more of these drugs can lead to insomnia. Some medications that may affect sleep include:

  • Decongestants and other cough and cold remedies
  • Diet pills
  • Steroids
  • Some high blood pressure medications (beta blockers)
  • Theophylline (asthma)
  • Phenytoin ( seizures )
  • Levodopa (Parkinson’s disease)

Avoid over-the-counter cold medications if you have difficulty sleeping. If you are taking a prescription medication that disturbs sleep as a side effect, discuss this with your healthcare provider. You may be able to take an alternative drug that does not disturb your sleep.

Note: Do not stop any prescription medication without the approval of your healthcare provider.

Reduce Stress

Stress is considered by most sleep experts to be the number one cause of short-term sleeping difficulties. Common triggers include school- or job-related pressures, a family or marriage problem, and a serious illness or death in the family. Exercise regularly to help relive stress, but do so at least three hours before bedtime. A workout after that time may actually keep you awake because your body has not had a chance to cool down and relax. Other techniques that may reduce stress are meditation and deep breathing.

Adjust Daily Activities

Habits and activities that you do during the day or night can interfere with getting a good night's sleep. Adjust your time schedule in order to avoid:

  • Exercising close to bedtime
  • Following an irregular morning and nighttime schedule
  • Working or doing other mentally intense activities right before or after getting into bed
  • Napping during the day, which can interfere with your ability to sleep at night

Avoid Nicotine, Caffeine, and Alcohol

Nicotine (from any kind of tobacco use) and caffeine stimulate the nervous system. Although this may give you a sense of energy during the day, these substances may interfere with your ability to go to sleep at night. Alcohol depresses the nervous system. Although alcohol makes you feel drowsy at bedtime, it interferes with normal sleep patterns during the night and causes restlessness. Avoid using tobacco products and drinking beverages that contain caffeine or alcohol in the afternoon or evening. They can create a vicious cycle of poor sleep at night, and an increased use of stimulants during the day to counteract the drowsiness from poor sleep.

Follow Bedtime Rituals If Working Night Shifts

Night shift work forces you to try to sleep when activities around you and your own "biological rhythms" signal you to be awake. One study shows that night shift workers are two to five times more likely than are employees with regular, daytime hours to fall asleep on the job because of poor sleep quality. If you work the night shift, speak with your employer about how to minimize the dangers of fatigue. Discuss your need for creating a sleep environment in the daytime with your family or those with whom you live. Try to keep a consistent schedule for sleep throughout the week, even on your days off. Make your daytime home environment conducive to sleep by keeping light out of the room you sleep in and minimizing external noise.

Create Good Sleep Habits and Environment

A distracting sleep environment such as a room that's too hot or cold, too noisy or too brightly lit can be a barrier to sound sleep. Interruptions from pets, children or other family members can also disrupt sleep. Other influences may be the comfort and size of your bed and the habits of your sleep partner. Try to create an environment that is restful by painting your room a light blue or green, using shades to block light, and playing soothing music or “white noise” (such as a fan). Seek medical help for a sleeping partner who snores loudly, or consider separate sleeping arrangements.

Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine that will allow you to unwind and send a "signal" to your brain that it's time to sleep. Avoiding exposure to bright light before bedtime and taking a warm bath may help. Don't use your bed for anything other than sleep or sex. Your bed should be associated with sleep. Avoid “clock watching” after going to bed. And avoid drinking fluids just before bed.

Prepare for Jet Travel

Jet lag is the inability to sleep as a result of crossing many time zones in a short period of time, as when you travel by jet. This can disturb your biological rhythms and deprive you of good sleep. To help minimize its effect, get a good night’s sleep before traveling, drink plenty of water, and avoid alcohol during the trip.

References:

Can’t sleep? Learn about insomnia. National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/site/c.huIXKjM0IxF/b.2462647/apps/nl/content3.asp?content_id={66F03734-EC8A-44F7-A094-5F59607B9112}&notoc=1 . Accessed on May 14, 2007.

Healthy sleep tips. National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/site/c.huIXKjM0IxF/b.2419247/k.BCB0/Healthy_Sleep_Tips.htm . Accessed May 14, 2007.

Jet lag prevention. MedlinePlus website. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002110.htm . Accessed on May 14, 2007.

National Center on Sleep Disorders Research website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/about/ncsdr/index.htm .

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/ .

National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/ .

NIH state of the science conference statement on manifestations and management of chronic insomnia in adults. June 13-15, 2005. National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://consensus.nih.gov/2005/2005InsomniaSOS026PDF.pdf . Accessed May 14, 2007.

Strategies for shift workers. National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/site/c.huIXKjM0IxF/b.2464479/apps/nl/content3.asp?content_id={CE1219EF-B2AD-49EF-B52B-BCF5093A06D9&notoc=1 . Accessed May 14, 2007.



Last reviewed May 2007 by Janet H. Greenhut, MD, MPH

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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