We all have occasional bouts of mild insomnia. It may be
due to an excessively stimulating day, a particularly disturbing
event, or perhaps an especially difficult assignment due the
next day. Usually these periods are brief and we are able
to resume our normal sleep pattern. There are times, though,
when stress may be prolonged for several weeks altering our
sleep pattern so that getting a good night's rest is quite
hard. We may toss and turn, ruminate over too many things,
or wake up frequently during the night. It seems the harder
we try to sleep, the more impossible it is to fall asleep.
We unwittingly condition ourselves to experience nighttime
with wakefulness. We even take daytime naps to "catch
up" which makes sleep at night more difficult.
Rest assured. Sleep research shows that even chronic insomniacs
get sleep. They may report getting no sleep, but laboratory
results indicate that sleep does occur, albeit uneven. What
is sought is the return of the subjective feeling that one
has rested well.
If you suffer from poor sleep, be sure to consult your physician
to see if there are any physiological reasons for your situation.
You may be asked about any personal problems or stresses you
have been under lately since these psychological factors can
interfere with restful sleep. Talking with the PCC counseling
psychology staff may also help identify psychological complications
Once you have "ruled out" any physical or serious psychological
reasons for poor sleep, consider the following suggestions
for better sleep habits (it would be wise to review these
with your physician).
- MAINTAIN A REGULAR WAKE-UP TIME This
will help synchronize your circadian rhythms (your biological
sleep-wake clock). If you work a swing or night shift, stay
with your regular sleep- wake schedule as close as possible
even on your day off. Changing your pattern may result in
"jet lag" symptoms.
- CREATE A SLEEP ENVIRONMENT Muffle loud noises,
screen light from entering your room, use a good bed, maintain
a room temperature between 64°F and 66°F, and turn
your clock away from you so you can't see it in the middle
of the night (seeing the time tick by creates more pressure
to sleep making it harder to fall asleep).
- DEVELOP BEDTIME RITUALS These will serve as reminders
that it is time for sleep. You may start with locking your
doors and closing your windows. Then, take a warm bath or
shower, brush your teeth, change into your sleepwear (if
you use them), turn down you bed, set your alarm clock,
recite your prayer or meditate, turn off the lights, and
use any other behavior that can be ritualized in the preparation
- CONDITION YOURSELF TO SLEEP Learn to associate
lying in bed with sleep. If you go to bed and end up worrying
about things, get out of bed. It is better to go to sleep
when you're drowsy. Avoid sleeping in other places around
your house or apartment. Your bed, too, is not for studying.
Use you desk and save your bed mainly for sleep.
- OMIT DAYTIME NAPS This will throw off your sleep-wake
- LEARN TO RELAX If you are tense, deep muscle relaxation
will help. Clench your fists, feel the tension for a few
short seconds, then quickly relax your hand and allow the
tension to escape. Do the same for your arms, then your
neck, your abdominal area, and finally your legs. Take d-e-e-p,
slow rhythmic breaths to help relax.
- ENGAGE IN DAILY EXERCISE This tends to deepen sleep.
Try aerobics, jogging, calisthenics, swimming, walking,
and the like. Refrain from workouts a few hours before sleep
since exercise is stimulating.
- AVOID CAFFEINE, CIGARETTES, AND ALCOHOL BEFORE GOING
TO BED Caffeinated coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate
increase arousal, so eliminate them after midday. Decaffeinated
beverages are usually fine. Since cigarettes can increase
stimulation, butt them out. Alcohol, while facilitating
some relaxation, typically leads to fragmented and poor
- OVER-THE-COUNTER SLEEP AIDS typically contain antihistamines.
While inducing drowsiness in many, some may become over-stimulated.
Caution: sleep aids are for occasional use only; regular
use may lead to over-reliance.
- DON'T LABEL YOURSELF AN "INSOMNIAC" Should you
have a difficult night, the experience will only reinforce
the label and create a fear of insomnia which could become
a "self-fulfilling prophecy." Remind yourself that you will
probably get some sleep even though it feels like you've
had none. Concentrate on the idea that "rest will come."
- REDUCE FLUIDS AFTER DINNER TIME This will lessen
the likelihood of having to use the toilet in the middle-of-the-night
and thereby permit uninterrupted sleep.
- IF YOU STAYED UP ALL NIGHT (or a good portion of
it) to study for an exam or finish a paper, remember it
will take a few days to readjust your sleep-wake cycle.
- IF WORRYING KEEPS YOU AWAKE, set up a 30 minute
"worry" period to occur at the same time and in the
same place every day. Be certain to confine all worrying
to just the one time slot and to think intensively about
your concerns. As you toss and turn in bed or wake up trying
to solve your problems in the middle of the night, remind
yourself that you'll have time during the worry period that
next day. Remember, too, that you're not really alert enough
to solve problems when you're half asleep.
If you still are not sleeping well after trying the above
tips, consult your physician again, the nursing staff of the
Student Health Center in Room U104, or the counseling psychology
staff of the Psychological Services in Room L108. Professional
services at PCC are available to currently enrolled students.