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April 15, 2014

Tips to beat insomnia

(Protégez-Vous in partnership with the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal)

Does it take you hours to fall asleep? Do you wake up several times during the night? Feeling irritable and depressed? It just might be insomnia. Here are ways to get the sleep you’ve always dreamed of!

Most adults need an average of 7 hours of sleep every night. Yet according to a recent Léger Marketing poll, 32 percent of Canadians are not getting this recommended number of hours due to a sleep disorder. Psychologist Charles Morin, Director of the Center of Studies on Sleep Disorders at Université Laval, and author of Vaincre les ennemis du sommeil (Conquer the Enemies of Sleep), says that chronic insomnia affects 10 to 15 percent of the population, especially women.

Insomnia is not a disease per se, but the symptom of an underlying problem. It is associated with poor health and impaired quality of life. That is why identifying the root cause is so important. If you suffer from insomnia, keep track of your sleep and try to be mindful of any lifestyle issues that may be connected to your sleep problem. Then talk to a healthcare professional about it.

The main causes of insomnia

  • Physical pain
  • Side effects from medications (e.g., diuretics, antihistamines, mood stabilizers)
  • Depression or coping difficulties (e.g., bereavement, move to a new home)
  • Anxiety
  • High caffeine intake or a heavy meal
  • Lack of exercise
  • Urinary incontinence (50 percent of women over 65 have this problem)

Treat the cause of insomnia to get the sleep you need

If the issue is pain:

  • Take your pain reliever 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist for an extended-release medication that will last all night.

If the issue is drug side effects:

  • See your doctor to have your medication regimen reviewed. Sometimes it is just a question of taking a drug at a different time or finding an equivalent product that will not disrupt your sleep.

If the issue is depression or anxiety:

  • Find someone to talk to.
  • Learn relaxation techniques.
  • Take your prescription medication as instructed by your healthcare professional.
  • If symptoms persist, see your doctor or visit your CLSC to speak with a nurse or psychologist.

If the issue is caffeine or a heavy meal:

Eat a light dinner that will be easy to digest. Just make sure you are eating enough calories during the day so that you are not awakened by hunger.
Reduce – or better yet, eliminate – coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol and cigarettes. Remember that alcohol disrupts sleep states and undermines quality of sleep.

If the issue is lack of exercise:

  • The answer is obvious: Get moving! Try to exercise during the day, not in the evening.
  • If you love to nap, do it only once during the day – and never more than 20 to 30 minutes.

If the issue is incontinence:

  • Aim for 1.5 litres of fluid every day.
  • Try to drink all your fluids between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Eliminate bladder irritants, such as coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol and carbonated beverages.
  • Remember to go to the bathroom before bed.

More tips for a restful night

  • Use your bed only for sleep and sex. That means no TV in the bedroom!
  • Create a cozy environment: good blinds or curtains to keep the room dark; cool temperate and good airflow.
  • Keep a dim light in the hallway or bathroom to ensure your safety if you get out of bed during the night.

To learn more:

Le manque de sommeil, cause d’hypertension et d’obésité, Protégez-Vous, April 2011. (In French only)
L’«approche cognito-comportementale» au secours de l’insomnie, Protégez-Vous, April 2011. (In French only)
Pas de tablette sous la couette, Protégez-Vous, September 2012. (In French only)

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