We spend over a third of our time sleeping. But unfortunately for many of us, sleep isn't a simple ON/OFF switch we can just activate at a moment's notice. Do you struggle to sleep even though you feel tired and sleepy? Do you wake up in the middle of the night anxiously watching the clock, calculating how much time you've got left to sleep?
If you've answered yes to any of these questions, you're not alone. About 2 out of 5 people share your problem
Insomnia is a common, devastating problem that can cost us our energy, our good mood, our ability to function and ultimately our health. If the situation becomes chronic, it can lead to more serious health problems and even a shortening of our life span, according to experts.
Insomnia in itself is not the problem but is usually a symptom of a variety of other potential problems. The trick is identifying the underlying cause of our insomnia and finding the right treatment for that problem. Sometimes insomnia hides more serious medical or psychological issues, and sometimes there is no easy cure for it, and one must take special supplements or pills to sleep.
Common Symptoms of Insomnia
Difficulty falling asleep despite being tired
Waking up frequently during the night
Trouble getting back to sleep when awakened
Relying on alcohol to fall asleep
Waking up too early in the morning
Daytime drowsiness, fatigue, or irritability
Difficulty concentrating during the day
Causes of Insomnia: Figuring out why you can’t sleep
Let's put on our detective hat and try to find the reasons for our insomnia. Sleep detectives like ourselves take note of factors such as stress, anxiety and depression, which are responsible for about half of all insomnia cases. In addition, they note the daytime habits, the sleep routine and the actual physical health of the person to understand their impact on the quality of their sleep.
Psychological issues that can cause insomnia:
Depression, anxiety, chronic stress, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder.
People who suffer from these mental stresses have a hard time sleeping, not only because of their inner turmoil, but because the body is physically preventing sleep because of these issues. Unfortunately, the lack of sleep tends to make these problems worse, and thus a magic cycle is born, where we are constantly tired, cranky, anxious and depressed, and can't sleep to boot.
Medications that can cause insomnia:
antidepressants; cold and flu medications that contain alcohol; pain relievers that contain caffeine (Midol, Excedrin); diuretics, corticosteroids, thyroid hormone, high blood pressure medications. Make sure to always check with your doctor, and research the medication you're taking to make sure that one of the side effects is not insomnia.
Medical problems that can cause insomnia:
asthma, allergies, Parkinson’s disease, hyperthyroidism, acid reflux, kidney disease, cancer, chronic pain.
Sleep disorders that can cause insomnia:
Sleep apnea (trouble breathing during the night that results in the person not breathing, then waking up many times in the night without knowing why), narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome.
How to Cure Your Insomnia
Some of the things we do to cope with our lack of sleep may actually do us harm, such as drinking a lot of coffee during the day to wake up or alcohol (red wine for example) at night to fall asleep. Often, changing the habits that are reinforcing sleeplessness is enough to overcome insomnia altogether. It may take a few days for your body to get used to the change, but once you do, you will sleep better.
That is the easy solution half the time. If a change of habits and relaxation really don't do the trick, there are remedies on the market that can help.
Adopting new habits to help you sleep
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool. Noise, light, and heat can interfere with sleep. Try using a sound machine or earplugs to block outside noise, an open window or fan to keep the room cool, and blackout curtains or a sleep mask to block out light.
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Support your biological clock by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, including weekends, even if you’re tired. This will help you get back in a regular sleep rhythm.
- Avoid naps. Napping during the day can make it more difficult to sleep at night. If you feel like you have to take a nap, limit it to 30 minutes before 3 p.m.
- Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Stop drinking caffeinated beverages at least eight hours before bed. Avoid drinking alcohol in the evening; while alcohol can make you feel sleepy, it interferes with the quality of your sleep. Quit smoking or avoid it at night, as nicotine is a stimulant.
Preparing your brain for sleep
Your brain produces the hormone melatonin to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle. As melatonin is controlled by light exposure, not enough natural light during the day can make your brain feel sleepy, while too much artificial light at night can suppress production of melatonin and make it harder to sleep.
To boost melatonin production, use low-wattage bulbs, cover windows and electrical displays in your bedroom, avoid bright light and turn off television, smartphone, and computer screens at least one hour before bed.
Learning to associate your bed with sleeping, not sleeplessness
Use the bedroom only for sleeping (and sexual activity). Don’t work, watch TV, or use your computer or smartphone. The goal is to associate the bedroom with sleep, so that when you get into bed your brain and body get a strong signal that it’s time to nod off.
Get out of bed when you can’t sleep. Don’t try to force yourself to sleep. Tossing and turning only increases the anxiety. Get up, leave the bedroom, and do something relaxing, such as reading or listening to soothing music. When you’re sleepy, go back to bed.
Breathing from your belly.
Most of us don’t breathe as deeply as we should. When we breathe deeply and fully, involving not only the chest, but also the belly, lower back, and ribcage, it can help relaxation. Close your eyes and take deep, slow breaths, making each breath even deeper than the last. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Progressive muscle relaxation. Lie down or make yourself comfortable. Starting with your feet, tense the muscles as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10, and then relax. Continue to do this for every muscle group in your body, working your way up from your feet to the top of your head.
The problem with sleeping pills and the new generation of sleep formulas
A new generation of sleep formulas is replacing the sleeping pills we've known so far. The problem with sleeping pills is that they usually work by lowering the activity of our nervous system. This presents 3 problems: The
is that they leave us drowsy in the morning. The
is that they contribute to our continued cycle of insomnia, and the
is that they are addictive.
The new formulas are a reaction to these problems, as we see today that medicine is turning more and more to natural ingredients. These include ingredients such as Longan fruit extract, Muceuna Pruriens herb extract and Valerian root extract,
and have the following advantages over the old sleeping pills:
- They are made from natural ingredients
- They don't leave you sleepy the next day
- Are non-addictive
- Preserve your focus
- Are impossible to overdose on.