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Counting sheep to get to sleep? Common myths about insomnia

sleepOne sheep, two, three…if you find yourself counting sheep to fall asleep, we have good news, there are other ways to help you get a better night’s rest.

The condition known as insomnia results in difficulty falling asleep, remaining asleep, poor quality of sleep, or other scenarios related to sleep. Although there are sleep tests than can be done, insomnia is diagnosed primarily based on clinical observations, meaning the medical history you discuss with your physician.

Veronica Brito, MD is a sleep specialist at Scott & White Sleep Institute and helps many suffering from sleep disorders.

Dr. Brito explains that there are many factors that can cause insomnia, some coming from your mind, your body or both. These psychological factors can include a loss of a loved one, financial hardship, mood disorders, or concerns with family members or children. In addition to your mind, your body may have difficulty sleeping due to respiratory diseases like sleep apnea where your airways are narrow as you sleep, restless leg syndrome, or other chronic medical problems.

Common Myths about Insomnia:

Because sleep is such a significant need for our body to recharge, many people feel helpless when it comes to insomnia. Even more, there are myths that circulate, some of which are not true.

Dr. Brito sheds light on the following insomnia myths:

1. I should spend more time in bed to get more sleep.

“Explore."

Dr. Brito says, “You should go to bed only when you are sleepy.” She suggests if you are not asleep in 20 minutes, then you should get back out of bed. Leave the bedroom and do something relaxing. Once you are sleepy, return to bed and go to sleep.

2. A bad night of sleep always follows a good night of sleep.

A good night of sleep usually helps you sleep well again the next night explains Dr. Brito. You will feel better and more relaxed. You also will be less worried about your sleep. If you’ve been traveling or had your biological clock disrupted, try your best to get back on track.

3. I am better off taking sleeping pills.

If you are tempted by the quick-fix of taking a pill, consider this: sleeping pills can provide short-term relief for a sleep problem, but they may cause side effects. Other treatment options may be safer and more effective for you. You should discuss all your options with a doctor.

4. My sleep is getting worse and no one can help.

Insomnia can be treated with a very high rate of success. There are doctors near you who specialize in helping people who have sleep problems. A sleep specialist can decide which treatment option will work best for you, since everyone’ situation is unique.

“Discuss your sleep problems with your primary care doctor,” says Dr. Brito. “Let him or her know if your sleep problem is causing you distress or affecting you during the day. Your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist for more help.”

Clean Up Your Sleep with Sleep Hygiene Methods:

Dr. Brito explains that people sometimes believe that their problem doesn’t have a solution, and become hopeless. Insomnia can cause distress on you or your family.

“Our society has been dealing with a lot of pressure, and one of the things we observe is that many of us are staying up late,” says Dr. Brito.

To help get our sleep back on track, Dr. Brito shares her method for “cleaning up our sleep” by adopting sleep hygiene methods.

Sleep hygiene includes: 

  • Not going to bed, unless sleepy, and if you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed.
  • Eating, watching TV and using the computer in bed should be avoided.
  • It is important to try waking up at the same time each morning, try to keep a regular schedule.
  • Avoid naps, or limit them to 30 minutes after lunch.
  • Don’t exercise or do vigorous physical activity prior to bedtime, as this will not help you get tired.
  • Caffeine and cigarettes should not be used prior to bedtime.
  • Create a pre-bedtime routine, take a shower, read a book or write a journal.
  • The bedroom should be dark, quiet, free of TVs, computers, and other devices with a screen, and if possible, on the colder side.

If you’ve tried these recommendations and are still having trouble with your sleep, you may need to get help. “The treatment of insomnia will vary according to the presence of possible problems associated with insomnia, the type of insomnia and presence of features suggesting other sleep disorders,” says Dr. Brito.

For more information and resources visit us at the Scott & White Sleep Institute.

About the author

Jill Taylor
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I contribute content and skills as a freelance writer for Baylor Scott & White Health. I enjoy improving our connection with our readers, patients and communities by assisting with a wide range of writing projects.

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Counting sheep to get to sleep? Common myths about insomnia