7 Steps to fighting insomnia

By on August 29, 2011 under Sleep, Uncategorized

  • Sixty percent of adults get inadequate sleep and 10-30% of adults suffer from chronic insomnia.
  • Inadequate sleep causes irritability, decrease in memory and learning, and a decrease in the body’s ability to fight infection.
  • When you don’t get enough sleep, your body increases the production of stress hormones which cause headaches, heartburn, anxiety, depression weight gain, and high blood pressure.
  • Chronic insomnia increases the incidence of diabetes, heart disease, depression, cancer and obesity.

If you think you are suffering from inadequate sleep, print out this list, highlight your “issues” and start working on them.

1) Figure out how many hours of sleep you need. We are all different. Most people feel well rested after 7-8 hours of sleep but some people need less and some need more.

2) Re-evaluate and prioritize your activities. If you “don’t have enough time” to sleep for 7-8 hours (or whatever your magic number may be) then you are doing too much. Getting adequate sleep is more important.

3) Practice good “sleep hygeine“. Factors such as noise, temperature, routine, light exposure, exercise, diet, caffeine, and alcohol can affect your ability to sleep. If you have chronic insomnia, you must read this article. This is one of the most complete articles I have seen about sleep hygeine. Print this out and highlight any factors that may be contributing to your insomnia.

4) Rule-out medical conditions and medication side effects. The most common medical conditions that can affect sleep are sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, acid reflux, depression, prostate enlargement, chronic pain, and night sweats due to menopause. If you think you have a medical condition that is interfering with sleep, see your doctor. Also, some medications can cause sleep disturbances, most commonly medications used for seizures, depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, asthma, and thyroid disorder. If you think your medications may be interfering with your sleep, talk to your doctor about alternatives.

5) Watch for excessive alcohol use: Many people drink alcohol in order to get to sleep. Alcohol and other sedatives interfere with the body’s ability to get into deeper stages of sleep. So even though you may be able to get to sleep easier, your sleep will be less restful.

6) Try Relaxation techniques: In my opinion, many cases of insomnia are caused by stress. Stress increases the release of stress hormones that cause you to feel anxious and awake. Stress also inhibits release of the “sleep hormone” melatonin. Stress reduction techniques such as controlled breathing exercises and progressive relaxation can naturally help to reduce stress hormones and increase melatonin.

7) Supplements or medications:

  • Melatonin: If relaxation techniques fail, you can also try supplementing with melatonin before bed. Melatonin is also helpful for insomnia caused by jet lag or night shifts.
  • Valerian: This herbal supplement has shown to alleviate insomnia in some studies at doses of 300-600mg.
  • Other herbal combinations: There are many herbs that are thought to promote relaxation. Some companies have formulated herbal combinations that may help with insomnia that is caused by an inability to relax due to stress and/or worry. One example is the Xymogen supplement SerenX
  • Over-the-counter and prescription sleep medications: The ingredient in over-the-counter sleep medications is almost always a sedating antihistamine. Almost all prescription sleep medications are central nervous system sedatives. Both over-the-counter and prescription sleep medications cause some degree of morning or daytime grogginess or fatigue and decrease in concentration. Prescription sleep medications can also cause dependence and worsening insomnia when stopping them. Also concerning is that they can increase the risk of falling in the elderly. I discourage people to use these medications except for short-term use.
  • It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor before trying any supplements, herbs, or over the counter medications for insomnia.