Welcome to my community education page where you’ll find a number of downloadable information resources on Insomnia. This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the assessment and treatment of an appropriately licensed mental health professional.
Dealing with Simple Insomnia
The best way to tackle insomnia is to deal with the problem in a systematic fashion so that you eliminate the causes one by one. Some experts suggest that you keep a journal or a checklist so that you can keep track of the various things that might be affecting your ability to sleep.
The first place you should start is to eliminate all of the physical and environmental problems that might be causing your insomnia and then move onto the emotional aspects of the problem. The body doesn’t do a good job of distinguishing between physical stress and psychological stress. If you don’t eliminate the physical and environmental stressors first, you might be misperceiving the psychological stressors.
Get a Medical Check Up
Insomnia can be the first sign of significant health problems. So, if you have been dealing with insomnia for more than a couple of weeks, the first thing to do is to get a complete medical check-up in order to rule-out any physical problems. Also, review whatever prescribed medications you might be taking with your doctor. Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs can stimulate the central nervous system so that you have difficulty sleeping at night. Review the drug action of your prescriptions with your physician. If any of your medications indicate the possibility of agitation or insomnia, consult with your doctor to see if this can be addressed. Don’t do this on your own, work with your physician.
Insomnia, Alcohol and Drugs
To date, there isn’t a drug on the market that will give you a natural night’s sleep without some disruption of the natural wake-sleep cycle. This includes all of the newer sleep medications. Ambien was supposed to be a miracle drug that had no side effects until a number of reports of people sleepwalking and doing things like driving while sleepwalking. (See the NY Times Article).
The truth of the matter is that most drugs have a primary drug effect and a secondary drug effect. Since many people use alcohol as a folk remedy to get to sleep, let’s use alcohol as our example for understanding the primary and secondary effect of a drug.
The primary drug effect of alcohol is that it acts as a depressant. Many people use alcohol’s primary effect to get drowsy so that they can fall asleep. This might work for an hour or two; however, alcohol’s secondary effect, agitation and depression kicks in for 4-6 hours. This secondary effect will stimulate the central nervous system so that the person will be unable to reach the deeper, more satisfying and restorative stages of sleep. This means that if you take alcohol, narcotics or tranquilizers for sleep, you will get some help initially. However, make no mistake about it, the very agents you are using to put you to sleep will later disturb your rest or wake you up in the middle of the night. Even worse, aside from the danger of addiction, after prolonged use, your sleep cycle can be disrupted for weeks or months after cessation of the drugs. I have seen addicts who have been using alcohol, benzodiazepines, or narcotics have their sleep disrupted for 6-18 months after discontinuing their drug use.
If you are using alcohol, benzodiazepines and narcotics and you suspect that you might be addicted to them, speak to your physician about your concerns. Don’t try to discontinue these drugs by yourself. The withdrawal can potentially be medically dangerous. Consult with your doctor about this.
Despite the evidence that drugs simply don’t provide a good night’s sleep, people who are desperate enough to get a decent night’s rest will attempt to use drugs. While there is a time and place for sleep medication, it should be your last resort and not your first.
Cut Down On Caffeine
Ok, notice that I didn’t say quit. I need my cup of go-juice in the morning like everyone else. However, caffeine is a stimulant. Need I say more? So long as you are having insomnia, don’t use caffeine (including coffee, tea and soft-drinks) 6-8 hours prior to going to sleep. Now, some of you will say: “I can sleep on top of caffeine; it just doesn’t affect me that much.” OK, I grant you that this is possible; however, we all get older and our bodies do change with time. It’s worth experimenting to see if your body is metabolizing this drug differently.
Get Enough Exercise at the Proper Time
Yes, I know, you don’t have enough time to exercise. Do you have enough time for insomnia? Your body also needs a moderate amount of activity each day. Sleep is part of your activity and rest cycle. Look at it this way, not enough activity, not enough rest. You may not be getting enough sleep simply because you are not getting enough physical activity.
20-30 minutes of light to moderate daily exercise may be the ticket to a sound night’s sleep. However, it’s important to get this exercise at least 4-6 hours before you go to bed. Too close to bedtime, your body will be stimulated from the activity and you might find it difficult to go to sleep. If you exercise regularly, make sure that you do it early enough so that your sleep is not affected.
Light stretching and Yoga poses designed to relax you before bedtime can also help. However, remember, it’s important not to stimulate the body prior to sleep. Otherwise, your stretching can have the unwanted effect of keeping you awake.
A good diet is essential for good sleep. Don’t eat foods or food supplements before bedtime that have a stimulant effect. Also, the amount you eat prior to bedtime can affect your sleep. Too much food will keep you falling asleep. Too little food could give you a mild case of low blood sugar or send your body into ketosis (fat-burning). This can create sufficient physiological stress to wake you up at night.
Some foods are natural tranquilizers. Dairy products provide lots of calcium and magnesium. For those who are lactose intolerant, Turkey contains tryptophan. A serving of either of these foods could help you get to sleep just before bedtime, or if you wake up in the middle of the night.
Keep the Lights Low and Avoid Stimulation
Our body is stimulated into wakefulness by light. If you wake up in the middle of the night, keep the lights low and avoid sensory stimulation. Avoid television, music that is too stimulating, and computer use. If you must use a computer screen, us a program that filters out the blue light from your display. But if you can, stay off computers and cell phones altogether.
Do something that is quiet and even boring. Take a hot bath. Listen to a relaxation CD.
Get Out of Bed
We are aware of our surroundings throughout most of the night. Most people have difficulty distinguishing between light sleep and wakefulness. In order to train your body to get down into the deeper, more satisfying parts of sleep, get out of bed until you are tired enough to fall into a deep sleep.
Stop Ruminating About Tomorrow
If you are awake because you can’t get an idea out of your head, get out of bed and write the idea down, make a to-do list or action plan.
Rely on Your Spirituality
Pray, meditate, or read a spiritually uplifting book.
Deal with the Emotional Stressors
There are all kinds of relationships; job and other lifestyle stressors that can create enough tension in your life to keep you awake at night. Fear of going to sleep at night because of bad dreams or intrusive thoughts can also create insomnia. These types of stressors are often complicated and need the time and attention it takes to come up with creative options to eliminate the problem. Waiting for a simple or magical answer only delays the solution. Get the help you need. Psychotherapy or counseling might be needed for these issues. Give these problems the respect they deserve and get the help you need.
Remember to Get the Help You Need from a Qualified Professional
The information on this page is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the assessment, diagnosis or treatment of a licensed medical or mental health professional.