Millions of people around the world suffer from insomnia. If you struggle to fall asleep, even when physically or mentally exhausted, you are not alone.
Millions of people around the world suffer from insomnia. If you struggle to fall asleep, even when physically or mentally exhausted, you are not alone. Scientific studies indicate that almost one-third of Americans suffer from insomnia.
Insomnia is not selective. People of all ages, genders and cultures suffer from this maddening malady. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that 9- to 12 per cent of the American population suffer from chronic insomnia. The Mayo Clinic describes insomnia as, “Chronic insomnia is defined when you have problems falling asleep, maintaining sleep, or experience non-restorative sleep that occurs on a regular or frequent basis, often for no apparent reason.”
Insomnia depletes energy, reduces attentiveness and the ability to function well during the day and causes moodiness, restlessness, anxiety, daytime drowsiness, irritability and fatigue. Sleep is as vital to our well-being as air, water or food. The sleep you loose is lost forever. It is a misnomer to believe that you can “make-up” for missed hours of sleep.
Some people only experience insomnia occasionally as the result of over-stimulation, eating late, stress or caffeine consumption. Others regularly toss and turn, frustrated by their inability to acquire a refreshing night's sleep. Most people function best when they are able to sleep 7- to- 8 hours each night. However, our sleeping patterns vary dependent on physical activity, medical conditions and age. Senior citizens tend to take daytime naps and may sleep less during the night.
Occasional insomnia is not a major problem. We have all experienced nights when we just could not get to sleep. Insomnia is considered chronic when you cannot sleep for weeks in a row. Chronic insomnia may contribute to serious health problems including diabetes, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease. Chronic insomniacs are prone to accidents and injuries. A prolonged period of poor sleeping patterns can lower the immune system and accelerate tumor growth. Sleep depravation can damage your memory and decrease problem solving ability and reactions to stimulation. When circadian rhythms are disrupted, a pre-diabetic condition can occur which makes you feel hungry during the night, disrupting sleep and causing weight gain. A chronic lack of sleep accelerates aging and leads to a lack of libido and virility.
If your sleeping problems are chronic or affecting your over-all well-being, consult your physician. It is wise to have a through physical to rule out any underlying medical condition that is affecting your ability to obtain a good night’s sleep. Be sure and discuss with your doctor any over-the-counter medications, prescriptions or nutritional supplements your may be taking. Many drug formulations can disrupt normal sleep. Discuss with your doctor your sleeping habits and tell him/or her if you snore. Sometimes excessive sleepiness is as much a problem as insomnia. Only your doctor can accurately diagnose a serious sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy.
More and more people are turning to over-the-counter medications or prescriptions to try to get some sleep. While these medications are helpful in treating short term bouts of insomnia, medical experts report they have little value in treating chronic insomnia.
The IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics; The Use of Medicines In The United States-Review 2010, reports in 2010 there were 66 million prescriptions filled for sleeping pills (hynotics and sedatives). That number is up substantially from the 52.3 million sleep aid prescriptions filled in 2006. Pharmaceutical industry experts predict that sleeping pill sales will exceed 5 billion dollars within the next 5 years.
Possible side effects of sleeping medications include dizziness, changes in appetite, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, headache, gas, dry mouth, weakness and unusual, vivid dreams. The potentially harmful side effect of some sleeping pills includes parasomnias (complex sleep behaviors). Parasominics may walk in their sleep, carry on conversations, experience episodes of night terrors or bed wetting or engage in actions of which they have no recollection. Parasominics may enter into behavior or actions that could result in injury. Sleeping pills depress respiration and can be especially dangerous for asthmatics or persons with persistent lung disorders such as COPD.
Fortunately, for persons that wish to avoid the possible side effects, dependance and potential addiction to sleeping pills, there are many ways to naturally fall asleep and stay asleep.
Restrict caffeine to morning or mid-morning breaks. Make it a steadfast rule not to consume caffeine after lunch time. Remember caffeine is present in energy drinks,
coffee, tea, sodas, diet pills, cold medications, gum, candy and chocolate. The liver requires several hours to break down caffeine. If you restrict caffeine to before noon indulgences, your sleep will improve dramatically within 72 hours.
Vitamins may cause sleeplessness. Take your vitamins in the morning. B vitamins can disrupt sleep for several hours. Vitamins are best taken with food at breakfast time.
Avoid large meals within 4 hours of bedtime. A light snack before bedtime is fine, and can encourage slumber, however a heavy meal leads to restless sleep. If your body has to labor to digest a big meal, your sleep will with disturbed. Eat a small high protein snack 2- to- 3 hours prior to bedtime to provide L-tryptophan required for serotonin and melatonin production. Turkey, nuts, figs, bananas, dates and milk are high in L-tryptophan. This is one of the reasons that many people swear by a glass of warm milk at bedtime.
Add a piece of fruit to your nighttime nosh. Properties in the fruit encourage L-trytophan to cross the blood-brain barrier and promotes restful slumber. Avoid sugar and grains 4 hours before bedtime. Grains and sugars raise your blood sugar level. When blood sugar levels drop during the night, you may awake and find it difficult to go back to sleep. Try changing your nighttime eating habits. You will be amazed at how much it improves the quality of your sleep.
Stimulation and Stress
Try to avoid office paperwork, study or stimulation such as suspenseful book or movie at least an hour prior to bedtime. Shut off the television and computer. Provide yourself a time of transition by listening to soft music, reading an uplifting or spiritual book or enjoying a bit of time in quiet contemplation. When you close your eyes and head for the “Land-of-Nod” count your blessings instead of sheep.
Avoid vigorous exercise for 4 to 6 hours prior to bedtime. An evening stroll can calm nerves, relieve tension and promote sleep. However, an energetic work-out just before bedtime can keep you up for hours. If you are overweight, try to loose a few pounds. Many overweight or morbidly obese people suffer from sleep apnea.
Alcohol before bedtime can act as a stimulant, keeping you up and active well past your bedtime. Although alcohol can dull the senses and make you sleepy, it has a rebound effect and can awaken you in the middle of the night.
Hot baths and steamy showers should be avoided immediately before bedtime. Your body needs to cool down before sleep. During the summer, if you are overheated, a cool shower can lower the body temperature and help to induce sleep.
Avoid drinking much in the way of fluids 2 hours prior to bedtime. Use the restroom to empty your bladder just before you crawl into bed. This may help prevent wakefulness during the night.
Add Living House Plants To Bedroom Decor
Green plants cleanse the air and remove toxins. Add a few ferns, philodendrons and an African violet blooming on the nightstand. Flowers and greenery will enhance your decor and freshen the air.
Put Your Socks On
Cold feet can keep you awake. Employ an electric foot warmer, hot water bottle or wear socks to bed during cold weather. If your toes are toasty, you will sleep soundly.
A completely dark room will help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Our eyelids are translucent and susceptible to light. Light passes directly through the optic nerve to the hypothalamus, the controller of the body’s biological clock. Install blackout drapes or try using a sleeping mask to block intruding sources of light that disturbs your rest. Make sure light is not leaking in around drapes or under the bedroom door. Rather than leaving a night-light on to help with nighttime navigation, keep a flashlight on your nightstand or have a small lamp with a readily accessible switch.
Try to sleep in total darkness if feasible. Even the tiny light from an alarm clock can disrupt the production of melatonin. Throw a cover over your clock. Looking at it repeatedly during the night will only add to your stress. Speaking of alarm clocks, get rid of yours if it wakes you with a loud and startling noise. A rush of adrenaline and jangled nerves are a poor way to start the day.
Bright light restrict the body’s production of melatonin, a natural hormone that helps to regulate our sleep cycles. Manufactured by the body’s pineal gland, melatonin is a natural hormone. During daylight hours the pineal gland is inactive. When the sun sets and darkness occurs, the pineal gland is activated and begins to actively produce the sleep inducing hormone. As melatonin level in the blood rise, we start to feel sleepy and ready for bed. During the dark hours of the day, melatonin levels remain elevated for up to 12 hours. During the daytime, levels of melatonin in the blood are negligible. The National Sleep Foundation advises, “Melatonin is sometimes called the "Dracula of hormones" - it only comes out in the dark. Even if the pineal gland is switched "on" by the clock, it will not produce melatonin unless the person is in a dimly lit environment. In addition to sunlight, artificial indoor lighting can be bright enough to prevent the release of melatonin.”
Increase your bodies natural supply of melatonin by making sure that you get plenty of natural, bright sunshine during daylight hours. If you can’t spend adequate time outdoors, supplement home lighting with florescent bulbs. Melatonin supplements are available from health food stores and pharmacies. Consult your health care provider regarding a recommended dosage for your age, physical condition and weight. A typical dosage is 1.5 mg daily taken 45 minutes before bedtime.
Turn off the stereo or television and attempt to dampen sources of outside noise. Many people report using foam ear plugs to block disturbing noise that disrupts the quiet hours. Noise is especially intrusive for day sleepers. Shut off the phone, post a “day sleeper” sign on your front door and mask outside noise to gain the quiet you need to get some sleep. Many people find it helpful to use a “white noise” machine to blanket intrusive outdoor sounds.
Lower The Thermostat
Scientific sleep research shows that sleeping in a cool room promotes restful sleep. Many people keep their bedroom too warm. An ideal sleeping temperature is from 60 to 68 degrees F. Open a window to provide a bit of fresh air. The human body temperature is lowest after about 3 to 4 hours of undisturbed rest.
Time To Sleep
Many of us work unusual or disruptive schedules, starting work in the dark and getting home and trying to sleep during daylight. Prior to the advent of electricity, mankind followed the natural rhythms of nature, going to bed shortly after dark and awaking at dawn. The many glands and systems in the body do must of their restorative and filtering work after we have been asleep for 2 to 3 hours. If possible, try to establish a regular bedtime when the body can predictably know it is scheduled for rest. Once you have created a regular bedtime and adhere to that schedule, your body will develop a natural sleep pattern that will you allow you to fall asleep faster and wake up at a routine time, full of energy and ready to face the day.
Photo Credit: BonnieJLupton@mac.com