“In my 20s and 30s, I used to never be able to fall asleep and would just stay up all night long,” Applegate told People. At 44, the actress still only averages three hours of sleep a night, People reported.
“It’s something a lot of people don’t talk about,” Applegate said. “It affects your spiritual self, emotional self and physical self.”
'My body still wakes up every few hours'
Applegate is certainly not alone in her sleep struggles. Insomnia is the most prevalent sleep disorder in the general U.S. population, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Research shows approximately 33 to 50 percent of adults suffer symptoms of insomnia and approximately 10 to 15 percent of adults suffering distress or impairment because of their insomnia.
Applegate told People her sleep struggles continued after her 5-year-old daughter, Sadie Grace was born in 2011.
"When my daughter was born, I got into a three-hour feeding cycle. Now she sleeps 10 hours a night, but my body still wakes up every few hours. I'll also be up from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. and finally fall asleep. And then [Sadie Grace] comes in and is ready for breakfast!"
Insomnia can be short-term, late-onset, or brought on by temporary situations like stress at work, family pressures or a traumatic event. The common sleep disorder can also be a chronic condition, lasting much longer, brought on by a medical condition, medicines, substances or another sleep disorder. Or insomnia may be its own distinct disorder without a clear trigger, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
There is not clear research on whether new moms' irregular sleep schedules can trigger or change long-term insomnia, as Applegate describes, but some research suggest that interventions to treat sleep problems in new mothers could help decrease rates of postpartum depression (a condition, it's important to note, Applegate doesn't have).
There are many ways to treat insomnia
The good news is there are myriad non-medical and medical treatments that have been shown to be effective in treating symptoms of insomnia -- from relaxation training to cognitive behavioral therapy to alternative medicines to over-the-counter and prescription medications. And just earlier this week the American College of Physicians released new insomnia guidelines that assert a specific form of psychotherapy that blends talk therapy and sleep tutorials is the most effective treatment with the lowest risk of negative side effects and should be the first-choice treatment for the condition.
The real trick is finding a treatment plan that works best for the individual. Applegate told People that she follows these sleep rules to catch the most Zs she can:
1. Keep temperature cool and controlled
Applegate said she keeps the room between 60 and 68 degrees (experts at the National Sleep Foundation agree) -- and recommended using covers or socks if you get cold.
2. Turn blue lights off
"There's something in the blue light from the smart phone and from the television that stimulate your awake brain, which at night time is supposed to be the asleep brain,” Applegate told People. Science says she’s right -- blue light from TVs and phones can suppress melatonin, the hormone that tells our bodies to go to sleep.
3. No slurping in bed
Applegate said her husband slurping down water in the middle of the night in bed would wake her up. Her solution? Keep a straw in your bedside water glass -- “because they cut down noise.”
4. Don’t sleep with the TV on
"If you have to fall asleep to television, make sure you set your timer for it to shut off. It's not good for your subconscious to listen to the nonsense on late-night news," Applegate told People. Research shows any screen time before bed can be harmful to sleep, and that another layer of protection you can add if you must have the TV on is to use orange-tinted glasses (the research isn’t totally conclusive, but suggests they help block some of screens’ sleep-damaging light).
5. No pets allowed
“We have pets -- we love our pets -- but we had to start not having them in the bedroom because we couldn’t sleep,” Applegate said.
Applegate's frank words are a reminder of just how common insomnia is -- but there's a lot you can do, on your own and under the guidance of your doc, to not let it ruin your sleep.