The most frequent complaint among the patients I treat is stress. Everyone is stressed! Not surprisingly, we live in a world that promotes it. The United States is a country of see more, do more and have more — from the youngest children to the oldest adults, stress does not discriminate.

Many patients have forgotten how to slow down, breathe and enjoy the quiet. We are neurobiologically wired to answer the ping of the phone every time it sounds. Many people fall asleep with the televisions on late into the night, exhausted from working 9 to 5 and juggling children and extracurricular activities.  

Insomnia is on the rise. People are so stimulated they are unable to shut off their brain long enough to go to sleep. Much of this type of insomnia could be easily remedied, if patients stopped long enough to understand the impact of behavior on their health. But many are so overwhelmed with life that health takes a back seat.

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I’m doing my part to combat stress by encouraging my patients to take time every day to do something that is relaxing, especially before bedtime.

I suggest patients try participating in relaxing activities like taking a warm bath, meditating, studying their choice of religious materials, playing card games or just talking with family. I encourage them to turn off the television or to plan nights that are completely free of television.

I admit I am not always successful. I often get quizzical looks from patients when I ask them to commit to turning off their phone an hour before be. It’s sad to me that a number of patients feel this is an impossible task.

Other patients tell me there are chores to be done around the house. Their kids need baths and lunches have to be packed.

“Does the television need to be on to accomplish these things? Does your phone need to be on?” I’ve learned to ask.

Then I see their expression change. “No,” they answer.

We are not having enough fun, and neither are our patients. I hope the few stolen moments that result from my recommendations will turn into whole evenings, and that patients will sit down with their families to laugh and enjoy the time they spend with each other.

Sharon M. O’Brien, MPAS, PA-C, works at Presbyterian Sleep Health in Charlotte, N.C. Her main interest is helping patients understand the importance of sleep hygiene and the impact of sleep on health.