Is the Recession Keeping You Awake?

The sour economy has many people tossing and turning. Here's how to get your Zs during stressful times.
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If you're finding yourself up at night, worried about your job, your mortgage and your shrinking retirement savings, you’re not alone. Physicians are seeing more cases of stress-induced insomnia these days, says Robert M. Kosinski, M.D., medical director of the Monmouth Medical Center Sleep Disorder Center.

“Sleep problems increase in stressful times,” says Dr Kosinski. For some, the problem is temporary: When the stressor goes away, normal sleep patterns return. “But for others, stress may bring up some deeper, underlying issues and make them worse,” he says.

Two sleep problems are closely linked with stress, the doctor explains. One is a schedule disorder. If your daily routine is disrupted because of job loss, a change in shifts worked or the addition of a second job, you may have difficulty adjusting your normal wake-sleep patterns to fit your new schedule. As a result, you may have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.

Another problem directly related to stress is periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). It involves repetitive limb motions, usually in the lower extremities, that occur during sleep. Often, patients are unaware of the movements, Dr. Kosinski says, but they do report waking often during the night, which leads to daytime fatigue. PLMD, which can make sleep unrefreshing, is different from restless leg syndrome, in which abnormal sensations in the legs may keep one from getting to sleep in the first place. Sometimes, however, patients have both conditions.

You probably don’t need an overnight laboratory sleep study if you’re having stress-induced insomnia. But if you sleep enough hours and still wake up feeling unrefreshed, ask your doctor if such a study would be appropriate. You could have a disorder such as PLMD or obstructive sleep apnea, in which one briefly stops breathing many times each night. Such problems are often treatable.

For those who lie awake counting too many sheep—or Wall Street bears—the first step is to make sure to observe good sleep habits (see below) and maintain a normal sleep schedule.


Can you answer “yes” to these questions about your sleep habits? Doctors say these tips can help protect—or restore—your restful slumber:

  • I follow a relaxing pre-bedtime routine—for example, reading a book, listening to music or taking a hot bath.
  • I avoid exercising or eating heavy meals within three hours of bedtime.
  • My bedroom is sleep-friendly, minimizing bright lights and distractions such as a TV, a computer or a pet.
  • I go to bed and get up at roughly the same time each day, not deviating too much even on weekends.
  • Near bedtime, I avoid caffeine, tobacco and other stimulants (caffeine’s effects can take up to eight hours to wear off), certain over-the-counter and prescription medicines that can disrupt sleep (check labels) and alcohol. (Yes, a glass of wine right before you turn in may make it easier for you to fall asleep. But alcohol-induced sleep tends to be lighter than normal, and alcohol also makes it more likely that you’ll wake up during the night.)

Related Read: Stress Busters

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