Tired of Being Tired? Insomnia and Finding Your Sleep.


Tired of being tired?

Sleep experts say that an estimated 30-50% of the population is affected by insomnia. Insomnia can be transient, short-term, or chronic.

Sleeplessness runs deep within my family’s genetic makeup. My grandmother was a transient insomniac. She used to say;  “I’ve lost my sleep, but I’ll find it again soon.”

My 26-year-old daughter tells me that she suddenly can’t sleep. Within a few months, her 20-year-old sister asks about Melatonin. They both turn to me, because I’ve been known to occasionally wander the house late at night in search of the elusive night’s slumber.

Despite our shared genes, our shared insomnia has different triggers. My eldest daughter works varied day and night shifts of irregular hours and, until recently slept within arms-length of her cell phone and laptop. My younger daughter has a regular schedule but the pressures of school and work seep into the end of each jam-packed day. And me? My transient insomnia tracks closely with elevated stress.

Here are 6 things we’ve found helpful to “find our sleep”.

1. Dim the lights. Research indicates that exposure to light at nighttime suppresses melatonin production which in turn affects sleep. Cell phones, computers, video equipment and alarm clocks emit light. Make your room dark and, if at all possible, avoid the blue light generated by fluorescents, computer and video screens for up to an hour before your bedtime.

2. Avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine. Caffeine, is found in more than just coffee and tea- it naturally occurs in over 60 plants and lurks in surprising places including clear sodas, pain relievers, chocolate, ice cream, energy water, and breath fresheners. If you are a smoker, try to avoid smoking 2-3 hours prior to bedtime.

3. Watch what you eat! Pay attention to what you eat and drink before bedtime. A light snack might be beneficial but a full stomach can cause discomfort. This is especially true if you suffer from heartburn, acid reflux or indigestion. And, perhaps more obviously, avoid fluids late at night to limit trips to the bathroom.

4. Exercise! Research shows that regular, moderate physical activity promotes sleep. But, if you are sedentary, be patient- it takes time for a new exercise routine to have a positive impact on sleep. But, don’t exercise within a few hours of bedtime- your body needs time to unwind and relax.

5. Create a relaxing bedtime ritual. Habit helps signal your brain to slow down. Your ritual might include a warm shower, a chapter from a good book, a cup of warm milk and honey and/or soothing music.

6. Manage stress. Easier said then done, but successfully addressing stress improves your overall health including sleep. Read Psych Central’s excellent article on practical ways to handle stress or try one of the Wellness Center’s upcoming meditation classes.

Perhaps the most important tip of all, however, is knowing when to contact your doctor. Sleep disorders can be caused by complex combinations of environmental, physiological and psychological factors. Sometimes you need a little professional help to “find your sleep”.


Learn more about insomnia

View our series of videos about sleep….

In these videos, Johns Hopkins neurology sleep specialist and director of the Sleep Center at HCGH, Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., and Johns Hopkins sleep specialist, Dr. Rachel Salas discuss common sleep problems like sleep changes that come with age; insomnia, especially in women; and other disorders that get in the way of restful sleep. Helpful strategies to improve sleep and available treatments are also discussed.


Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license. 



1 Comment

  1. Jacqueline Miranda

    Are there good studies about how to remain asleep? I can fall asleep easily (if I’m disciplined to turn everything off), but after four hours, I’m awake. I stay in bed, but often am not in that deep sleep. My first step was to limit fluids and also recognize to get up and go to the bathroom rather than avoid getting up because it was cold. Still, I’m often not really asleep when 2am rolls around (I go to sleep at 930-10pm and wake up at 4:15am).