What is Insomnia & How Do I Treat it?

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There has been much in the news this past week about Michael Jackson dying after his personal doctor was treating him with a whole cocktail of drugs for insomnia. Could being unable to fall asleep make you so desperate that you keep asking for more and more drugs so that when you actually fall asleep, you never wake up again?

Is Insomnia Common?

Insomnia is very common. And it is more common in women than in men especially as they grow older. Both my mother and my mother-in-law suffered from it from middle age and now I do too. Sometimes I sleep right through the night and sometimes I am wide awake at 3 am. But there is just no point in lying awake worrying about not being able to sleep. I get up, make myself a cup of tea, and read, watch TV or write blogs on my laptop! I find that by about 5 am I am getting tired again so I put on the radio softly and it lulls me back to sleep for another couple of hours. And funnily enough, when my mother was alive she used to have a similar routine (but without the blog writing of course!).

How to Treat Insomnia

If we don’t have sufficient, good quality sleep at night, then this affects our day times too. We can feel tired, lethargic, and irritable, lack energy, or have difficulty concentrating. Our memories, reaction times and general alertness can all be impaired as well as our productivity at work or our patience with those around us. Our personal relationships can be affected and perhaps it is not even safe for us to drive. In a warm room with a full stomach or in the presence of white noise, we can sometimes find it difficult to remain awake during the day. If we don’t resolve the problem of insomnia, our immune system can be affected, lowering our resistance to disease and infections.

What Causes Insomnia?

In most cases, if you can get to the root of what is causing the insomnia, the battle is won. But there are certain tips to help you sleep too!

  • Try not to nap during the day even if you get the chance.

  • Establish a regular time each day for going to bed and for getting up the next morning and try to stick to those times.

  • Avoid obvious stimulants before bedtimes such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.

  • No heavy meals close to bedtime but just a light snack.

  • Avoid fluids just before bedtime to reduce the need to urinate.

  • Exercise regularly but not within 3 hours of bedtime.

  • Make sure you are relaxed when it is time to go to sleep – enjoy a warm bath.

  • Ensure you have a comfortable bed, in a comfortable room with the minimum of light, noise, and extremes of temperature. The room should be well ventilated.

  • Turn that clock away from you so that you are not tempted to keep checking the time.

  • If you cannot fall asleep within a reasonable time of going to bed, then read quietly until you feel tired.

  • If you are distracted or kept awake by a sleeping partner, arrange for some nights in separate rooms while you are getting into the sleep habit.

Most insomnia is fairly short-lived: transient insomnia which usually only lasts a few nights and often happens when you have to travel or you move to somewhere new or short-term insomnia which can carry on for 2-3 weeks and is often caused by worry or stress. The restless leg syndrome can also cause insomnia. It is chronic insomnia that can be a cause for concern and this where you suffer from disturbed sleep for at least 3 nights per week for a month or more. This is the form of insomnia where you really need to find out what the underlying causes and problems are. Go and see your doctor or even consult a sleep specialist. You might well need outside help.

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