“How did you sleep?” If you’ve had a rough night of tossing and turning, this seemingly innocuous question—often the first words you hear each day—can ring in the air like a cruel insult.
Trouble sleeping is a common experience. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2009 Sleep in America™ poll, the odds an adult has difficulty falling asleep at least a few nights a week are 1 in 3.45. And 1 in 6.25 adults have difficulty falling asleep every night or almost every night.
Women are more likely than men to have insomnia: when conducted in 2005, the same survey found that 1 in 3.85 women have difficulty falling asleep at least a few nights a week, compared to 1 in 5.88 men.
A number of things can make it hard to fall asleep. The most common is stress and anxiety—concerns over your job, health or relationships may make it hard to clear your head to the point where you drift off. Often the source of stress is the insomnia itself, so you’re in a self-perpetuating cycle in which worries over your inability to fall asleep make it increasingly difficult to fall asleep.
Trouble falling asleep can also be prompted by physiological issues. Due to individual variations in the biological clock, some people just don’t get sleepy until well after midnight, so it’s always going to be a challenge to fall asleep at 11 p.m. Others have ailments such as restless legs syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), chronic pain or emphysema that keep them awake.
There’s one curious phenomenon that you might find comforting if you consider yourself a hardcore insomniac: Some people overestimate how long it takes to nod off. For example, someone who actually falls asleep 20 minutes after hitting the hay may incorrectly believe it took an hour or more.
This experience, known as paradoxical insomnia, is one reason that sleep statistics based on self reports are often unreliable. You need to spend a night in a sleep lab wired up to electrodes and other sensors to get a truly accurate gauge of how long it takes to fall asleep.
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Study Shows A Bidirectional Relationship Between Chronic Stress and Sleep Problems [Internet]. ScienceDaily LLC. [accessed August 24, 2009]. Available from: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090610091236.htmBelsky, Gail
All About Paradoxical Insomnia: A Rare Condition Between Sleep and Wakefulness [Internet]. Health Media Ventures. [accessed August 24, 2009]. Available from: http://www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20191517_1,00.htmlRivkees SA. Time to Wake-Up to the Individual Variation in Sleep Needs. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. June 25, 1905 Sect. Editorial:24-25.Silva GE, Goodwin JL, Sherrill DL, et al. Relationship Between Reported and Measured Sleep Times. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. October 15, 2007:622-630.