Insomnia, the inability to fall or stay asleep, can be dangerous, even adversely affecting our health. Slowed reactions can not only cause productivity problems at work but also contribute to traffic accidents. An ongoing cycle of lack of sleep and fatigue can reduce your energy and motivation, possibly leading to obesity and depression. Your immune system doesn’t function as well without the proper amount of sleep. Your risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease also rise. Finally, the American Cancer Society found that those who sleep fewer than six hours per night actually have an increased mortality rate. Insomnia is a problem you should take seriously.
Insomnia itself is not a disorder but rather a symptom of an underlying problem. It can be caused by a number of factors, but some of the most common are medications or other drugs like alcohol, Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), other pain, schedule changes and stress.
The first key to overcoming insomnia is to figure out the cause. Read medication handouts and talk to your doctor if you suspect a prescription is preventing you from sleeping. Likewise, RLS and other pain that keeps you awake should be discussed with a doctor. Schedule changes may just take some time to get used to, but if you find you still cannot sleep even after an adjustment period, make changes. Tell your employer that you can’t work that kind of schedule, find a different job, whatever it takes to allow you to sleep.
Stress is the most common factor. Try various activities to find what seems to help you reduce stress. Exercise, meditation, television, music-people use all different kinds of methods to lower stress levels.
Prepare for bed
The next step is to take one night at a time. One of the things to do in order to get ready for bed is to get ready for the next day. If you are worried you won’t be able to find the right pair of shoes, get them out now. If you will lie awake thinking about the paper you didn’t type up, finish it now. If the leaky faucet will bother you, fix it, turn the water off below the sink, or put a heavy towel below the drip. Remove any such distractions.
Then find a way to wind down. Find something you can do that will occupy your mind and allow you to fully relax. A movie might be a good idea, but don’t choose an action film or something you haven’t seen before; you don’t want to choose something stimulating. Perhaps a warm bath or a cup of tea works. Reading may do the trick. Find what works for you.
Get yourself as comfortable as possible in the bed. Be sure the room is dark and quiet since lights and sounds can keep you awake. The trick at this point is to shut down your brain. You may have tried counting sheep and found that the monotony actually caused your mind to wander back to ideas that keep you awake. A better cure for insomnia is a physical relaxation exercise.
With your eyes closed, start at the top of your head and work your way down, relaxing your muscles as you go. Don’t move on until the muscles in each area feel completely relaxed. For instance, start with your forehead. Be sure it is not tightly pulled. Concentrate on the muscles there until you feel they are slack. Then move to your jaw. Your teeth should not be clenched. When your jaw feels relaxed, move down to your neck, and so on. Concentrating in this way can be more helpful than other methods because it relaxes you but also forces you to focus on one thing rather than bouncing back to the ideas that may keep you from sleeping.
No quick fix
While these steps are not guaranteed to cure your insomnia, they can help you get a good night’s sleep, particularly if you do your homework first. Discover the root of your insomnia, and then the cure is much easier to find. Nearly 60% of American adults admit to suffering from insomnia at least once a week, so you are not alone.
Be aware of what activities cause you to have a restless night. Eating too much too late can interfere with sleep. Exercising too close to bedtime has been suggested to have an effect. So pay attention to what your body is telling you. Don’t use the bedroom for activities other than sleep; having an office in the room doesn’t allow you to associate the place solely with sleep.
And have confidence that you can overcome your insomnia.
Daniel F. Kripke, M.D. “Mortality Associated with Sleep Duration and Insomnia.” General Psychiatry. Psych.ama-assn.org.
National Sleep Foundation. Sleepfoundation.org.