Are You Losing Sleep Over Stress?
Job insecurity, unpaid bills, health worries. Sometimes life's stress can start to get to you. "When that happens, sleep is often the first thing out the window and the last thing on the priority list," says Jacques Conaway, MD, medical director of the Sleep Center at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center.
It's easy to get stuck in a vicious cycle. "When you're feeling stressed, you may have trouble falling asleep at night or wake up too early in the morning. Or you may wake up in the middle of the night and lie there worrying," Dr. Conaway says. The next day, lack of sleep can wreck your concentration and hurt your work performance. It also can leave you feeling cranky, anxious or depressed,making the stress even worse.
De-stress for Success
Fortunately, you can break free of this cycle with healthy lifestyle changes.
- Focus on sleep - "When you're under stress, it's more important than ever to make sleep a priority," Dr. Conaway says. Allow for eight hours of sleep nightly, even when life gets hectic. Going to bed and getting up at the same time each day also helps.
- Hit the gym - "Exercise not only lets you blow off steam, but also helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle," Dr. Conaway says. Your body temperature varies slightly during the day, rising during vigorous exercise and falling during sleep. A late afternoon workout sets up a pattern that leads to a well-timed dip in body temperature later.
- Nix the nightcap - "Alcohol isn't a good sleep aid," Dr. Conaway says. While you might fall asleep initially, you're likely to be wide awake again in the middle of the night.
Watch for Warning Signs
Lifestyle changes may be all it takes to manage an occasional sleepless night. But for more disruptive or long-lasting sleep problems, medical assessment and treatment are necessary. Ask yourself:
- Have I had trouble sleeping at least three nights a week for a month or longer?
- Am I falling asleep while driving?
- Am I having problems with concentration or memory at work?
- Am I increasingly irritable or depressed?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, talk with your primary care physician or a sleep specialist. If they suspect a sleep disorder, you may be referred for overnight testing at our Sleep Center, where the testing is done in a comfortable, hotel-like setting.
Sleep Center specialists can assess the reasons for insomnia and diagnose any sleep disorders, such as circadian rhythm sleep disorder (a mismatch between your body's internal clock and the actual time of day) and obstructive sleep apnea (repeated pauses in your breathing during sleep). Treatment may involve lifestyle changes, medications or a machine that uses air pressure to keep your upper airway open during sleep.
"You don't have to suffer through sleepless nights," Dr. Conaway says."With treatment, you can sleep better at night-and feel better the next day, too."
Jacques Conaway, MD,
Sleep Center Medical Director
Call 443-777-7900 for a physician referral