Can't Sleep? It Might Be the Economy


As client after client slashes budgets and drops services, Don Wilson, a marketing consultant with his own Washington-based firm, is increasingly the odd-man out. Wilson, 45, is losing money, and he's also losing sleep from the stress of trying to keep his company afloat.

Wilson's insomnia is the same problem affecting millions of Americans being buffeted by the current financial crisis. The fear of losing jobs, homes, retirement savings and their financial footing is causing millions of people to lose sleep, according to a recent study by the American Psychological Association.

And that, say clinicians and physicians, just makes matters worse.

"Our current economic situation may be contributing to health problems including stress, sleeplessness, anger, depression, headaches and even elevated alcohol and nicotine consumption," according to the October 2008 APA survey, "Stress In America."

The study shows that women are especially susceptible to such issues.

Dr. Kim Goring, medical director of the Howard University Sleep Disorder Center and assistant professor of Medicine at Howard University College of Medicine, says this lack of sleep can cause serious health problems.

"People are more prone to illnesses and less able to fight off illnesses as their immune systems become weaker for lack of proper rest," Goring said. "Additionally, people don't concentrate as well. So, they're more prone to mistakes, including traffic accidents or accidents on the job. They don't think as clearly, so they are more prone to mistakes in their work."

Some people are more prone to insomnia from mounting stress, she said. Others, on the other hand, are hardly affected.

If you are experiencing insomnia, whether it's related to the economy or not, Goring makes these suggestions.

  • Don't obsess, don't panic. Insomnia is part of life, similar to a headache. Everybody goes through it at some point. For most people, it will last a while and then go away.
  • Try to go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Make sure your bed is in a cool, quiet, comfortable environment.
  • After bouts with insomnia, the bed and bedroom sometimes becomes the enemy and the worst place to sleep. So, get out of the bed if you're not sleepy and head to the sofa or another cool, comfortable place.

Goring also has some "don'ts" for people who are having trouble sleeping.

  • Don't drink alcohol within four hours of heading to bed. Contrary to popular belief, nightcaps (a late night glass of wine or another alcoholic beverage,) don't help. Instead, they are disruptive, causing fragmented sleep and preventing the important deep sleep everyone needs.
  • No vigorous exercise within four hours of heading to bed. This can also result in fragmented sleep and delays in deep, restful sleep.
  • No daytime naps -- they make it harder to sleep at night.
  • No caffeine near bedtime, stimulants keep you awake.
  • No television. The bright light reduces production of an important hormone necessary to generate sleep and makes matters worse when you can't sleep.

If problems persist, consult a physician about a mild, over-the-counter sleep aid, Goring said. However, this may indicate more serious concerns, like sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and circadian rhythm disorders and may merit a visit to a sleep specialist.

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