Healthy sleep practices vital in preventing chronic insomnia

Consistent schedule and routine can help you have a good night’s rest

22 April 2024 - 08:00
By Sibongile Mashaba
Avoid late afternoon naps as they can interfere with nighttime sleep.
Image: 123RF Avoid late afternoon naps as they can interfere with nighttime sleep.

As temperatures drop, many of us take afternoon naps more often and by the time you wake up, you realise you’ve been sleeping for two hours. Your night sleep is then affected and you’re up till late.

Before you know it, your sleep routine has been disrupted – you have late nights and early mornings. It means you’re not getting enough shut-eye as you should. Ever wondered why you’re moody when you’ve had too little sleep?

This is because not getting enough sleep affects you mentally, physically and has an impact in your daily life and productivity.

While sleep is important for resting, Medipost pharmacist Anneke Meyer emphasises the critical importance of sleep for overall wellbeing.

“Sleep is more than just rest, it's a cornerstone of a healthy life. Adults typically need seven to eight hours of sleep each night to support healthy brain activity and overall wellbeing,” Meyer says.

“Recognising the signs of inadequate sleep is crucial. If you're experiencing changes in mood, daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating, persistent tiredness or trouble falling or staying asleep, it may be time to reassess your sleep habits.

“Insufficient sleep can impair cognitive function and increase the risk of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, dementia and diabetes,” she says.

Neuroscience product manager for Pharma Dynamics, Abdurahmaan Kenny, says sleep deprivation is a growing problem.

Those that sleep less than six hours a night also tend to struggle with weight issues, having a body-mass index of 12% greater than those who sleep between seven and nine hours. Over time, chronic sleep deprivation may also lead to insomnia,” Kenny says.

“When an individual consistently experiences insufficient sleep over a prolonged period, it can disrupt the body's natural sleep-wake cycle and the regulation of sleep hormones such as melatonin. This disruption can result in difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep or getting restorative sleep, which are characteristics of insomnia.

“Long-term sleep deprivation can affect various bodily functions, impacting cognitive abilities, mood and overall health. It can lead to increased stress, irritability, difficulty concentrating, memory issues, depression and anxiety, as well as a weakened immune system. Over time, these effects can contribute to the development or exacerbation of insomnia.”

Kenny says some of the critical factors that contribute to insomnia include stressors like grief, chronic pain, substance abuse, medical comorbidities, impaired social relationships, lower socioeconomic status, old age and being female. 

Insomnia is more common in women because of hormonal fluctuations, a predisposition to depression, anxiety and stress, as well as circadian rhythm disorders and coexisting medical problems.

“Insomnia affects an estimated one in four adults at some point in their lives with 10-15% experiencing chronic insomnia and a further 25-35% reporting occasional insomnia. Yet, despite the high incidence, insomnia is still largely underdiagnosed and undertreated. Common factors that hinder the diagnosis of insomnia and the management thereof is the along with time-constrained doctor’s consultations, which often do not allow for enough questions about a patient’s overall well-being,” says Kenny.

He says addressing sleep deprivation early and adopting healthy sleep practices are crucial in preventing the development of chronic insomnia.

“If you think you have insomnia, treating it typically involves a combination of lifestyle changes, behavioural strategies, and, in some cases, medical intervention.

Kenny gives tips on how to manage and treat the condition:

Establish a consistent sleep schedule: Maintain a regular sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps regulate your body's internal clock.

Create a relaxing bedtime routine: Develop pre-sleep rituals that signal to your body that it's time to wind down. This might include drinking a cup of soothing herbal tea, like Rooibos, reading a book, taking a warm bath, practising relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation or listening to calming music.

Optimise your sleep environment: Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep. Keep the room cool, dark and quiet. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows. Minimise electronic devices and screen time before bedtime as the blue light can disrupt your sleep.

Limit stimulants and alcohol: Reduce or eliminate caffeine and nicotine, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. While alcohol might make you feel drowsy initially, it can disrupt your sleep later in the night.

Regular exercise: Engage in regular physical activity, but try to avoid vigorous exercise close to bedtime as it can be stimulating. Exercise during the day can promote better sleep.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT-I): CBT-I is a structured programme that targets behaviours and thoughts affecting sleep. It helps identify and replace negative thoughts and behaviours with positive ones to improve sleep.

Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Practices like mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery can calm the mind and body, making it easier to fall asleep.

Limit daytime naps: If you must nap during the day, keep it short (20-30 minutes) and avoid late afternoon naps, as they can interfere with nighttime sleep.

Seek professional help: In some cases, a doctor might prescribe short-term medication, such as a sedative-hypnotic. Hypnotics with a modified release (MR) formulation allows the active ingredient to be released at two different rates or time periods and works by slowing activity in the brain to help patients fall asleep and stay asleep. However, these medications should be used under medical supervision.

Meyer advises that among other things, you keep electronic devices out of the bedroom – I’m battling with this.