The first step to a good night’s sleep is to have a set routine. Have a bedtime in mind and try to stick to it. Keep your bedroom cool, quiet and dark. Eliminate screens, especially your cellphone. Bluish light emitted from your phone decreases melatonin (a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles) production and signals to your body that it’s morning.
One of the reasons many people do not get a good night’s sleep is that they wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep because their mind has racing thoughts. Learn to delegate your thoughts before bedtime. Accept that tomorrow is another day and you can’t solve your problems at night. Keep a notepad next to your bed and write down any thoughts of things to do that you don’t want to forget the next day. Another tip if you wake up and can’t go back to sleep is to stop looking at the clock, which causes anxiety, and leave the room. Read, listen to music or do something that distracts you until you’re tired.
If your mind keeps racing and keeps you from sleep, or if you keep waking up in the night, you have insomnia. Cone Health offers sleep studies, which also rule out other causes like jerking limbs, snoring and apnea, and low blood oxygen levels.
There are both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription sleep aids. Old-fashioned sleep aids are OTC pain meds with "PM" in their name, usually containing the generic form of anti-allergy meds, such as Benadryl. Dry mouth, dry eyes and daytime drowsiness can be side effects. Those 65 and older should use caution when taking Benadryl, as it can lead to confusion. Melatonin is the most common OTC sleep medicine. It’s recommended that patients try melatonin at doses of 1 to 5 mg, as it is safe for both older and younger individuals. Nearly all prescription sleep aids, including Ambien and Lunesta, are habit forming and can only be taken for a short amount of time (2 to 3 days a week). However, the effectiveness of the drug will wear off over time.
It is important to discuss any signs of a sleep problem with your primary care physician, as you may be a candidate for a sleep study. Cone Health offers home and in-lab sleep studies at several locations throughout the Triad. Leading the studies is an exceptional team of board-certified sleep medicine specialists, sleep technologists and respiratory therapists, and state-of-the art sleep monitoring equipment.
Carmen Dohmeier, MD, is medical director of Piedmont Sleep Laboratory at Guilford Neurologic Associates and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. Dohmeier graduated from medical school at the University of Hamburg in Germany. She completed her residency in neurology at Ohio State University Medical Center and fellowships in pediatric neurophysiology at Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and in sleep medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. She is board certified in neurology and sleep medicine.