How did you sleep last night?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has declared Monday, March 10, 2014, the first weekday morning after we change the clocks for the start of Daylight Saving Time early Sunday morning, Insomnia Awareness Day.
This changing of the clocks can disrupt sleep schedules in the short-term, known as temporary insomnia. About 30 to 35 percent of adults will experience periodic insomnia symptoms, according to the AASM. But in about 10 percent of people, these symptoms linger, causing what's known as a chronic insomnia disorder. These people experience "ongoing difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or regularly waking up earlier than desired, despite an adequate opportunity for sleep," according to the AASM. Other symptoms can include anxiety about sleep, irritability, sleepiness during the day, difficulty concentrating, stomach problems and headaches, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Chronic insomnia is typically treated with a combination of lifestyle changes (avoiding caffeine, tobacco and alcohol; exercising and eating earlier in the day; sticking to a regular, calming bedtime routine) and cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
But increasing awareness isn't only about recognizing symptoms and finding efficient treatment. In some instances, it involves better recognition, compassion and support from people who aren't suffering through sleepless nights. If someone in your life is dealing with insomnia, it's time to stop making these eight comments.
1. "Just relax!"
"The worst thing you can say to someone who is not relaxed is to just relax," says Dr. M. Safwan Badr, M.D., president of the AASM, "because they won't be able to." Adding to their anxiety about sleep will only leave them wide-eyed and worrying in bed. "I say the bed is for two things that begin with the letter S, and struggling and suffering are not among them. There's no way you can force yourself into sleep," he says.
Plus, it's not exactly a novel suggestion. "It's not likely they haven't tried that before," says Kelly Glazer Baron, Ph.D., an assistant professor of neurology and the director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. People with insomnia already know it's not as simple as lying down and closing their eyes. "It's asking them to do something impossible," she says. "It feels dismissive."
2. "Skimping on sleep will kill you!"
The very-real health risks of getting too little sleep aren't to be ignored, but bringing up these unsettling side effects can add to the pile of worry on an insomniac's plate, says Baron. "They're already worried, [and now they have] to wrap their head around this statistic and how it will affect their lives," she says. "They feel helpless to do anything to ameliorate that risk."
Okay, okay, we know you can't necessarily control when and where you snore, but if your bed partner is struggling with insomnia, take a moment to consider how your log sawing is making them feel. "They're awake listening all night," says Baron, which is understandably frustrating. See a physician if you cough, choke or stop breathing during the night -- that could be a sign of sleep apnea. But if you seem to simply snore away, try sleeping on your side rather than your back. Experts even suggest sewing a tennis ball into your PJs to act like a door jam and prevent you from reverting to your back, HuffPost's Laura Schocker reported.
4. "I don't have time for insomnia."
With a full-time job and kids and your marathon training and still trying to have some semblance of a social life, you're busy, sure. But that doesn't mean someone with insomnia isn't. Telling someone with insomnia that you're too busy to worry about sleep implies that they do have the time to worry about it, says Baron.
5. "Just drink some Sleepytime tea!"
Again, it's likely not that simple. Plus, chance are they've tried it, considering that "unless you're an alien from another planet" you've probably heard of this home remedy for better sleep, says Badr.
6. "What do you have to worry about?"
No matter how carefree you assume your friend's life to be, you don't know everything. No one appreciates being told their worries aren't worth stressing over -- and it's not like they're trying to stress. "I've had several patients say it's frustrating," says Baron.
7. "I take this pill, and I sleep great every night!"
While prescription medications can work -- at least for a time -- for some people with insomnia, they're not for everyone. "Lots of people don't want to take medication," says Baron. "That's not an answer a lot of people want to hear." They're not always effective or safe, and there are a number of natural approaches to easing sleeplessness.
8. "I had trouble falling asleep last night too!"
Yes, you're trying to sympathize, but comments like these can feel belittling. "Insomnia is not just 'I can't fall asleep,'" says Badr. "Insomnia is a medical condition with consequences. Telling people, 'I can't fall asleep either' almost invalidates the complaint. Chronic insomnia is not a nuisance, it is a medical disorder, and it has to be treated as such."