The Truth About Insomnia

In a workforce where nearly 20 percent of people experience insomnia, office productivity suffers as a result–to the tune of nearly $32 billion a year. That number, which comes from a new study in Archives of General Psychiatry, may seem staggering. But it doesn’t quite tell the whole story. In the study, researchers asked 10,000 […]

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In a workforce where nearly 20 percent of people experience insomnia, office productivity suffers as a result–to the tune of nearly $32 billion a year.

That number, which comes from a new study in Archives of General Psychiatry, may seem staggering. But it doesn’t quite tell the whole story.

In the study, researchers asked 10,000 people about their job performance and found that 7.2 percent of workplace errors were linked to insomnia, which is defined simply as difficulty falling or staying asleep.

The problem: People often don’t accurately remember how well they slept, says Christopher Winter, M.D., medical director of the sleep medicine center of Martha Jefferson Hospital, and a Men’s Health expert advisor. You won’t remember all of the details about your sleep during the day because of the way your brain is wired at night, Winter says. (Click here to dive in to The Science of Sleep.)

So here’s some good news: A little insomnia at night is completely normal, Dr. Winter says. In fact, throughout much of human history, people would hit the sack at sundown, wake up around midnight–a doctor-approved time for sex–and then fall back asleep, says Roger Ekirch, Ph.D., a professor at Virginia Tech and author of Sleep We Have Lost.

Nowadays, if people think they’re going to miss out on ZZZ’s, they panic: “The cause of insomnia is almost always fear,” says Dr. Winter. When you wake up in the middle of the night, you worry about the shut-eye you’re losing, and wind up staring at the ceiling, Dr. Winter says.

In reality, if you wake up around midnight for an hour, it shouldn’t affect your workday, says Dr. Winter. Try this: If you can’t fall asleep–or back asleep–willingly stay awake for one hour instead of stressing yourself out about not sleeping, Dr. Winter suggests. To minimize your chances of waking up throughout the night, try a pre-bed snack that’s packed with tryptophan, an amino acid that helps produce the sleep hormones sertotonin and melatonin. A banana, a glass of warm milk, or a spoonful of peanut butter should do the trick. (See which other snacks will send you snoozing with our list of 6 Foods for Better Sleep.)