Fatigued, irritable, having difficulties remembering things? If your answer was yes to one or more of these, it may be related to how you sleep. It is estimated that somewhere between ten and twenty-five percent of the population suffers from difficulties getting to sleep or staying asleep, a condition known as insomnia. Of course, no one enjoys feeling moody or fatigued, but the implications are even broader. Chronic irritability can disrupt work and even marriages, while fatigue has implications for safety including causing vehicle accidents. Groups that are at particular risk for sleep deprivation include night shift workers, physicians, truck drivers, parents and teenagers.
Signs and Symptoms
Insomnia can be categorized as one of at least four separate conditions. Sleep on-set insomnia is a condition in which people are unable to get to sleep when they go to bed. This condition may be caused by environmental factors such as the use of central nervous system stimulants including caffeine, irregular sleeping times and drinking too much alcohol. It may also be caused by biological factors including pain from an injury or illness, or by difficulties with breathing. In reversal of sleep rhythm insomnia a person is wakeful at night and sleepy during the day. This condition is common in people who work night shifts or experience jetlag. Head injuries and sleep apnea (difficulties breathing while sleeping) may also be the cause of this condition.
Early morning awakening (EMA) is a third condition which when chronic can be defined as insomnia. Frequently, the cause of EMA has to do with mental – emotional states. It is common in people who suffer from depression, as well as, people who tend to self-deprecate, suffer from anxiety or are under a great deal of stress. The final condition is sleep maintenance insomnia. Here the problem is one of remaining asleep throughout the night. This condition may have many of the same causes as EMA, particularly, depression and anxiety.
Have you ever thought, "the one thing I would like to do is wake up every morning having slept well." That skill is like gold, to be bottled like a good wine. Being a bad sleeper is one of the biggest handicaps in life but this behaviour can be changed.
Treatments for Insomnia
The Chinese have known for thousands of years that there are points on the body which when stimulated, such as with acupuncture or acupressure, have a calming and sedative effect. For some individuals acupuncture alone may be enough to cure their insomnia and, unlike drugs, it has no side effects. Importantly, acupuncture has also been studied for its ability to reduce stress and most people who undergo acupuncture treatments do report a reduction in stress.
Herbal remedies can and do provide relief from insomnia. Common herbs used in the treatment of insomnia include Valerian, which is accepted in at least five European countries as an over the counter treatment of insomnia, Hops, Passion flower, Skullcap and Lemon Balm.
Three nutritional supplements can be helpful in treating insomnia. Melatonin, which is a naturally occurring hormone in the body, is useful when sleep patterns have been disturbed. Both calcium and magnesium are known to have sedative properties and can help sleep when taken in the evening.
When it comes to mind – body therapies mindful breathing, yoga and meditation can all have positive effects for dealing with insomnia. Meditation and yoga have both been studied for their ability to enhance sleep and preliminary findings suggest that practicing these techniques for as little as 15 minutes before going to bed can raise melatonin.
Taking good care of yourself to avoid insomnia can be pleasurable. You might try taking a warm bath at night, drinking a cup of chamomile tea and practicing relaxation techniques in the evening hours. You may also want to modify your eating habits if you normally eat a large dinner. Try eating earlier and smaller proportions for dinner; if you need to, you can supplement this with a larger lunch. You will want to exercise during the day, avoid consuming large amounts of alcohol and reduce or discontinue your caffeine intake. For some sufferers of insomnia these measures may be enough.