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A restful night’s sleep: a how-to guide to fighting insomnia

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Do you get enough sleep? When you wake up, do you feel refreshed—and able to tackle the day’s activities? If your answer to any of these questions is no, fixing this problem is essential since your health depends on it.

Getting a sufficient amount of good-quality sleep is as important as getting enough exercise and eating well. Your body and mind are repaired and regenerated during sleep.

Here is a short guide to help you combat insomnia and get the restful sleep that you have dreamed about.

Sleep requirements

Sleep requirements vary from person to person, based mainly on age. The specialists at the National Sleep Foundation recommend the following number of hours of sleep a night, by age group:

  • 0 to 3 months: 14 to 17 hours
  • 4 to 11 months: 12 to 15 hours
  • 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours
  • 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours
  • 6 to 13 years: 9 to 11 hours
  • 14 to 17 years: 8 to 10 hours
  • 18 to 64 years: 7 to 9 hours
  • 65 years or more: 7 to 8 hours

Problems linked to lack of sleep

In the short term, lack of sleep can cause general tiredness, poor moods and a decline in performance at work or school. It may reduce alertness and put you at a greater risk of accidents. It can also cause drowsiness and irritability, as well as concentration, attention and memory problems.

In the long term, lack of sleep can lead to a weakened immune system, reduced life expectancy and serious health problems:

  • obesity
  • high blood pressure
  • cardiovascular disease
  • cancer
  • type 2 diabetes
  • depression and anxiety

Facts and figures on insomnia

Did you know that:

  • In Canada, the incidence of insomnia rose by 42% between 2007 and 2015, from roughly 17% in 2007 to nearly 24% in 2015, according to the most recent statistics.
  • On average, we get one hour less sleep a night than our ancestors did a century ago. Our modern lifestyles, increased stress and the proliferation of technology in our lives are likely to blame.
  • Women experience symptoms of insomnia more frequently than men.

Insomnia is a sleep disorder defined by the following clinical features:

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Waking up often during the night and having trouble getting back to sleep
  • Waking up too early in the morning
  • Feeling tired when you wake up.

Insomnia can be short term, lasting from a couple of nights to several weeks, or chronic, occurring at least three nights a week for a month or more.

There are two types of insomnia: primary insomnia, which is not caused by a health problem, and secondary insomnia, which is caused by a health condition (arthritis, gastric reflux, depression, thyroid problems, etc.), the use of medications, or drug or alcohol consumption.

Insomnia has multiple causes:

  • Consuming certain foods and beverages during the evening meal or before bedtime: red meat; spicy food; foods high in fat, sugar or carbs; chocolate; coffee; tea; alcohol; soft drinks; energy drinks; etc.
  • The sleep environment: too much light, ambient noise, or temperature too hot or too cold in the bedroom, as well as watching TV, listening to the radio, looking at your phone, working on your laptop, playing video games, etc.
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Stress and anxiety linked to worries or problems at home or at work
  • Mental or physical health problems
  • Gastric reflux or the need to urinate during the night
  • The use of certain medications
  • Jet lag and non-standard work schedules (shift work)
  • Other sleep problems such as sleep apnea, snoring and restless legs syndrome
  • Age: older people are lighter sleepers and more sensitive to noises.

Watch out for blue light from computer screens

Using your smart phone, tablet or computer for extended periods before bedtime can disrupt your sleep.

According to the experts, blue light suppresses your body’s natural melatonin production, which has harmful effects on sleep. Blue light exposure can make it harder to fall asleep, cause you to wake up numerous times during the night and shorten your total sleep time.

Tip: turn off your screens one to two hours before bedtime.

Advice on getting a better night’s sleep

  • Develop a sleep routine: always go to bed and wake up at the same times, on both weekdays and weekends.
  • Every day, get consistent exposure to light and darkness, making the most of natural sunlight.
  • Create a restful environment in your bedroom: dark, quiet and a comfortable temperature (18oC or 65o F).
  • Establish a relaxation ritual before going to bed: take a bath, read, listen to soothing music, do breathing exercises, etc.
  • Does worrying keep you up at night? Clear your mind by jotting your worries down on a piece of paper or in a notebook. This is an effective way of stopping yourself from dwelling on your worries when you are trying to sleep.
  • Consult your physician or pharmacist to find out whether the medications that you are taking could be causing your insomnia.
  • If you have chronic pain, ask your doctor to prescribe medication to ease the pain and allow you to sleep.
  • Do not take naps during the day. If you can’t resist, limit naps to 20 minutes.
  • Avoid—or drink less—coffee and alcoholic beverages; do not smoke.
  • Limit your intake of food and beverages during the evening meal and before bedtime.
  • According to several preliminary studies, certain foods seem to be conducive to sleep and are worth a try before bedtime such as : sour cherry juice, almonds and walnuts, milk, turkey, bananas, fatty fish, kiwis, camomile and passionflower tea, white rice and oatmeal.
  • Exercise, but not too close to bedtime (i.e., no closer than 3 or 4 hours before bedtime).
  • To stop looking at the time and stressing even more over your insomnia, hide or cover your alarm clock.
  • Use your bedroom exclusively for sleeping and sex: no reading, TV, radio, computers, video games, tablets or smart phones.
  • Only go to bed when you are tired.
  • If you can’t sleep, get up and go to another room to read until you feel sleepy again.
  • Get out of bed as soon as you wake up and don’t linger in bed in the morning if you are not sleeping.

To help you conquer insomnia

a helping hand from Adrien Gagnon

Melatonin’s natural fruit-flavored liquid formula is ideal for adjusting dosage depending on the varying severity of insomnia symptoms. More on Melatonin Liquid 3 mg.

Melatonin is a naturally produced hormone in the body that helps put you in sleep mode. An imbalance in melatonin production may result in problems with falling asleep, among other things. Taking melatonin capsules helps to restore your natural sleep cycle so that you can fall asleep faster. Melatonin capsules can also be effective in fighting insomnia caused by jet lag or shift work. More on melatonin capsules.

Are your nerves keeping you up at night? Are you tired, jittery, stressed out or overworked? Relaxen “Night” capsules will calm your nerves and anxiety, promoting deep, restorative sleep. Relaxen “Night” capsules are gentle and non-addictive. They contain a combination of plants with calming properties, such as valerian and hops. More on Relaxen “Night” capsules.

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