MARQUETTE - It's a familiar scenario to most people who have trouble falling asleep - looking at the clock every five minutes to see, if they fell asleep that instant, how much sleep they'd get before their alarm clock wakes them up in the morning.
People may feel helpless when insomnia prevents them from getting a good night's sleep but there are actually many easy ways to battle the disorder. According to Dr. Roman Politi, director of neurology at Marquette General Hospital, most cases of insomnia can be treated simply by changing common habits.
"The most common reason people have insomnia is just bad habits. They have what we would call poor sleep hygiene. They tend to have variable sleep times. They're inconsistent in the time they go to bed and by and large they don't allow themselves enough time for sleep. They don't make sleep a priority. And so they tend to get stuck in these bad habits," he said.
Some bad habits include eating, reading, and watching television in bed. Politi said if done frequently, people will start to associate laying in bed with these habits that keep people awake.
"You train your brain and body to be awake in bed in the evening. To some degree a nice, quiet book for a few minutes does help settle the brain and that's fine for people who are sleeping well. But for the people who have trained themselves to be awake in bed their body and their brain wake up because they know they're going to be reading an exciting book for an hour. The murder-mystery type of book is not what you want. You want to be winding down, doing something relaxing," he said.
Politi said reading a book before bed in another room or in a chair is fine. The key is to associate the activity with an area other than the bedroom.
Other bad habits include exercise and excessive caffeine consumption before bedtime. He said its common to see bad sleep habits develop during a person's first or second year of college.
Other factors can lead to insomnia as well including depression, medications, medical conditions, changes in environment or work schedule, anxiety and stress.
There are several types of insomnia, including transient - which lasts for less than a week, acute - the inability to consistently sleep well for a period less than a month and chronic - the inability to sleep well for over a month.
Sleep is important for the brain to function properly, Politi said. People who deprive themselves of sleep can become easily fatigued, more irritable and it's easier for them to lose concentration. It can also increase appetite since eating usually helps people become more alert.
"If they're tired during the day they may even take naps which then exacerbates the problem when they try to fall asleep that night because now they're partially rested so they get kind of stuck in these bad habits," Politi said.
About seven to nine hours of sleep a night is recommended for adults, however Politi said everyone has different needs.
"If the person feels rested and is functioning fine they are probably getting an adequate number of hours. If the person is irritable and drowsy and needs caffeine to function is probably not getting enough sleep," he said.
Adolescents need more sleep than adults, he said.
Other common sleep disorders include sleep walking and sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is generally due to obesity, where the person is simply not breathing properly during sleep and they're essentially being strangled in their sleep. The brain wakes up to help protect against the lack of breathing. Some children are prone to sleep terrors. Another disorder is narcolepsy, where the brain improperly jumps into sleep stage, although it is not common.
Some under-recognized sleeping disorders include restless leg syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder.
Politi said it is preferable for people to change their habits before turning to sleeping pills or sleeping aids.
He suggested people dress warmly, drink a warm beverage, and get themselves settled and prepared for sleep rather than going full speed all evening and then hopping into bed with the expectation of instantly falling asleep.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org