Sleep. Never heard of it.



Insomnia, the most prevalent sleep disorder, is characterized by an inability to fall asleep and/or by waking up during the night and having diffi- culty going back to sleep.

Primary insomnia is more common in women than men and tends to increase with age.

Short-term or transient insomnia may be caused by emotional or physi- cal discomfort, stress, environmental noise, extreme temperatures, or jet lag, or may be the side effect of medication.

Secondary insomnia may result from a combination of physical or mental disorders, undiagnosed or uncontrolled sleep disorders (that is, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, and circadian rhythm dis- orders), and effects of prescription or nonpre- scription medications. Treatment will differ for primary and secondary causes of insomnia.

Treatment may include behavioral aspects, such as following a specific nighttime routine, improving sleep environment, reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, or reducing afternoon nap- ping.

Pharmacological treatments may alleviate symptoms in specific cases.

Some individuals try to overcome the problem of insomnia by drinking alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol inhibits REM sleep and the deeper, restorative stages of sleep, and therefore does not promote good, restful sleep.

Representative Total Sleep Requirements for Various Species

Species Average Total Sleep Time (hours/day)

brown bat 19.9 python 18.0 owl monkey 17.0 human infant 16.0 tiger 15.8 squirrel 14.9 golden hamster 14.3 lion 13.5 gerbil 13.1 rat 12.6 cat 12.1 mouse 12.1 rabbit 11.4 jaguar 10.8 duck 10.8 dog 10.6 bottle-nosed dolphin 10.4 baboon 10.3 chimpanzee 9.7 guinea pig 9.4 human adolescent 9.0 human adult 8.0 pig 7.8 gray seal 6.2 goat 5.3 cow 3.9 sheep 3.8 elephant 3.5 donkey 3.1 horse 2.9 giraffe 1.9


What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness.

What are some examples of good sleep hygiene?

The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain regular wake and sleep patterns seven days a week. It is also important to spend an appropriate amount of time in bed, not too little, or too excessive. This may vary by individual; for example, if someone has a problem with daytime sleepiness, they should spend a minimum of eight hours in bed, if they have difficulty sleeping at night, they should limit themselves to 7 hours in bed in order to keep the sleep pattern consolidated. In addition, good sleep hygiene practices include

  • Avoid napping during the day; it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be taken in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep; stay away from large meals close to bedtime. Also dietary changes can cause sleep problems, if someone is struggling with a sleep problem, it’s not a good time to start experimenting with spicy dishes. And, remember, chocolate has caffeine.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  • Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before trying to go to sleep. Don’t dwell on, or bring your problems to bed.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or read.
  • Make sure that the sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. The bed should be comfortable, the room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright.


About Jennifer Shay, LCSW, ACSW

Licensed Clinical Social Worker
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