Sunday, October 25, 2009

I Can't Sleep

My sister Rose suffers from insomnia and can’t sleep. She has tried many sleep remedies such as counting sheep, reading, warm milk, sleep music, self-hypnosis tapes and even over-the-counter sleep medication, but to no avail she lies in bed tossing and turning as her husband is snoring logs. She’ll call me late at night crying “I can’t sleep and I don’t know what to do.”

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that is caused by a number of reasons; stress, pain and/or illness and can show up at any age. You learn your sleep habits when you are young and these habits might have to be changed in order for you to overcome your insomnia. If a lack of sleep is causing you to have additional health problems, it is best to seek counseling from a reputable sleep specialist. You may have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder that is the source of your insomnia. Testing for sleep apnea is done at a sleep clinic where they monitor your sleeping habits over night. Here are a few alternative natural approaches to overcome insomnia.

The recommend 15 minutes of sunlight is not only a good way to soak up some Vitamin D, but it also can restore your body’s natural sleep cycle also known as the circadian rhythm.

Avoid naps, if possible. If you must nap, take a power nap of only 15-20 minutes. This should refresh you enough to get through the rest of the day and still allow you to sleep easy at night.

My sister loves a heavy blanket it makes her feel like she is in a cocoon, just like how a baby is swaddled when sleeping. This is probably an old sleeping habit, but if you like a heavy blanket make sure you don’t let your body over heat. If you over heat during the night, this will only wake you up. It is advisable to keep the temperature in your room cool, 65 degrees for adults and 70 degrees or less for children. Menopausal women that have night sweats especially need a cooler room with no constrictive clothing and fewer blankets.

Your bedroom should be a place where you sleep and have intimate relations only. Watching television, playing video games, eating, using your computer or talking on the phone are activities that should be done when you are in a wakeful mode. To prepare yourself to fall asleep you should do things that will relax you like read a boring book, write in your journal or listen to soft music, this will get your mind off of your to-do-list or wondering how you’re going to kill the bad guy in the video game.

If your parents were smart they would of established a night time routine for you when you were an infant. Adults need a bedtime routine too. If you need 7-8 hours of sleep and have to get up at 7am to get ready for work you should be asleep at 11:00pm. You need to make time or at least an hour to prepare for sleep; take a warm bath, read, snack, have a cup of Decaf Sleepytime tea, etc. Don’t exercise right before bedtime this will only increase your heart rate and cause your body to over heat. If you exercise after work try to do it 3 hours prior to your bedtime.

Do you suffer from acid reflux during the night? Caffeinated beverage and spicy foods can cause indigestion and heartburn. If you want a snack prior to going to bed eat foods that are high in carbohydrates or foods rich with Tryptophan. Tryptophan is a biochemical that causes drowsiness. Tryptophan is in turkey, eggs, nuts, beans, cereal and milk. Hence the old wives tale drinking warm milk to fall asleep. Caffeinated beverages, cigarettes and even vitamins and herbal supplements are stimulants. If you take supplements before retiring read the labels, all stimulants should be taken 2-3 hours before bedtime. Also liquids should be cut back at least 2 hours before bed to stop or at least limit the number of times you might have to get up during the night to go to the bathroom.

Sleep music and self-hypnotic tapes work for some people, but if they don’t work for you like my sister, try listening to ‘white noise’. White noise is a type of noise that is produced by combining sounds of all different frequencies together. If you took all of the imaginable tones that a human can hear and combined them together, you would have white noise. White noise is good to drown out other noises, such as Rose’s husbands snoring. You can buy white noise on a tape or CD, but a fan is also a good alternative.

Your room should also be as dark as possible to avoid stimulating your circadian cycle. Melatonin is secreted from your pineal gland when day turns to night, thus controlling your sleep cycle. Light prevents melatonin from producing; therefore you will have a hard time falling asleep. As we age our body produces less melatonin, so you might need a melatonin supplement. As with any supplement, contact your doctor before taking it due to an interaction with other drugs or medical problems. If the doctor has prescribed you with sleep medication, remember that you run the risk of becoming addicted. Some sleep and pain medication can cause a sleep problem, because they make you too weak to breathe properly; therefore you will wake up during the night.
The above are suggestions to help you find a natural way to fall asleep without taking over-the-counter sleep medications or prescription drugs that have side effects and additive properties. If you feel your insomnia needs special attention because you are having additional medical problems, please contact your doctor as he may recommend a specialist. As I mentioned above you may need to have a sleep study done at a sleep clinic where they will evaluate your sleeping habits to determine if you have sleep apnea. The results may indicate that you need a CPAP machine to control your sleep apnea. Sleep apnea means you stop breathing during the night due to an obstruction in your airway. A CPAP machine will push air into your airway with enough pressure to overcome the obstruction. Snoring may also be a sign of sleep apnea. Snoring may be the reason Rose can’t sleep. I know ‘I cant sleep’ with a snorer. May be Rose should get her husband to a sleep clinic????

In any case, ask your sleep partner for his opinion about your sleep habits. Try the suggestions above and keep a sleep journal. In the sleep journal keep track of the sleep remedies and how they did or did not help you get to sleep. Once you have tried all the possibilities, you will be better informed about your insomnia and the information will be beneficial for your doctor.

The content in I Can't Sleep is for information purposes only, intended to raise the awareness of different solutions for your sleep problems and should not be considered medical advice. For medical diagnosis and treatment, please see your qualified health-care professional.
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