If you have trouble falling asleep or trouble staying asleep, you suffer from insomnia. It is estimated that 50% of Americans suffer from occasional sleep problems; and that 1 in 10 has chronic insomnia, which is disturbed or troubled sleep for one month.
Conventional treatment for insomnia mainly relies on medications, such as sleeping pills and tranquilizers. Once heavily prescribed, these medications are now used more sparingly due to limited effectiveness and side-effects (such as anxiety, hypertension, dizziness, restlessness, digestive disturbance, nausea, among others). They shouldn't be relied upon for more than several consecutive nights, otherwise their effectiveness decreases. Often people increase dosage with decreasing effect; however, once habituated to their effect, it becomes difficult to eliminate them without insomnia returning often worse than before. If you haven't slept in two or three nights, or you are wide-awake at 1am, you might need to take a pill. But, use caution and discretion: one sound recommendation is that if you must take a sleeping pill, limit your use to once weekly.
Current treatment for insomnia takes a holistic approach, evaluating and adjusting lifestyle, exercise, diet, etc. accordingly. Sleep cycles follow a distinct pattern; sleep is easiest if we can identify this pattern. Falling asleep is easier when our body temperature is dropping. This occurs at night, usually between 7 and 9 pm. It is important not to interfere with this temperature drop, but to work with it. Avoiding stimulation of any sort in the evening is essential: the obvious stimulants are caffeine, nicotine and sugar; less obvious ones are vigorous exercise or a hot bath or shower, which increase body temperature, and watching television or using a computer, which can amp up mental activity.
Eating habits affect sleep. Eating a large meal within three hours of bedtime means digestion may be incomplete when your fall asleep. Digesting and sleeping don’t mix, and both functions are compromised. Typically, fitful sleep and awakening unrested is the result of late eating.
Sleep is a habit, and if you cultivate it properly, you will be rewarded. Choose a bedtime that is realistic for your lifestyle: if you are tired, arrange for more sleep. Find a regular bedtime and awakening time, and stick with it within 15 minutes every day for 3 weeks. Allow enough time for sleep: most people need around 8.5 hrs./night. Some get by with 6, others need 14.
Melatonin, a brain chemical that helps sleep, is decreased by exposure to bright light. If you can get outside in the morning for 30 minutes, you will find that you are more alert all day, and then sleep will come easier at night. Likewise, at keeping your exposure to bright light to a minimum will help increase melatonin, and induce drowsiness.