Wide awake at 3:00 am?
Here are tips for battling insomniaSunday, September 19, 2021
Dr Jacqueline E Campbell
INSOMNIA is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard for you to fall and/or stay asleep. It can also cause you to wake up earlier than you wish and not be able to get back to sleep.
If you are suffering from insomnia, you most likely awaken feeling unrefreshed. This saps your energy levels and mood interfering with your health, work performance and quality of life. Rest assured (pun intended) that insomnia is one of the most common medical complaints.
One classification of insomnia is based on how long the person has had problems with sleep. The categories are transient (lasting one to three nights), acute (lasting from three nights to three weeks) and chronic (lasting more than three weeks, even months or years).
Some possible causes of acute insomnia include pain, late-night eating with heartburn; caffeine or nicotine intake close to bedtime (caffeine can be found in chocolate, tea, sodas, medications, and herbal supplements); stressful events; and noisy or unusual sleeping environments.
There are many causes of chronic insomnia - psychiatric (depression, panic attacks, anxiety); behavioural; medication side effects; circadian (shift work, time zone change ), and neurological (stroke, Parkinson's disease).
The following are some tips for insomniacs:
• Try to get up at the same time every morning regardless of how long you slept the previous night. This may strengthen the circadian rhythm of sleep and wakefulness and lead to a more regular time of sleep onset.
• Avoid napping in the day.
• If you are unable to sleep, get out of bed (and preferably into another room) and do something relaxing, like reading. This is not the time to clean the fridge.
• Use the bed and bedroom only for sleep and sex. Do not read, eat, work, or watch TV while in bed.
• Do regular exercise during the day as this encourages sound sleep. Exercising several hours prior to bedtime may make it easier to fall asleep. However, vigorous exercise close to bedtime may raise the core body temperature and interfere with sleep.
• Avoid caffeine-containing foods and drink near to bedtime.
• Avoid or limit alcohol. While alcohol can make you sleepy, the ensuing sleep is frequently fragmented.
• Avoid large meals before bed. Eating too much food late in the evening can interfere with sleep. For example, a light snack of warm milk and a few crackers is fine. Drink less before bedtime to reduce the number of night-time bathroom trips.
• Why not try a hot molasses toddy? This can be made by mixing 1-2 tablespoons of molasses in a cup of hot water. Add to this, ½ teaspoon of grated nutmeg. Sip slowly. If it is too cloying, add a little milk.
• Drink a cup of hot soursop leaf tea.
• Several herbs - valerian, chamomile, hops, lemon balm, and passionflower - have proven effective in the treatment of insomnia.
• Make an herbal sleep pillow. In a bowl, mix the following dried herbs:1 part lavender, 1 part rose, 1 part hops, 1 part chamomile. Stuff this mixture into a pillow made of cotton material. Place the herbal pillow beside your head or inside of your regular pillowcase.
• Use calming essential oils – lavender, vanilla, geranium, nutmeg, sweet orange, chamomile. Several candles and bath soaps contain these oils. The oils can also be burned in a diffuser.
• Fine-tune your sleep environment. Keep a comfortably cool room. Ensure that your mattress is comfortable and position your bed to minimise light and noise while you sleep.
• Do relaxation exercises. An example is the corpse pose in hatha yoga. Lie flat on your back, with your palms facing up. Slowly take deep breaths using the abdominal and chest muscles. As you slowly breathe in and out, begin relaxing your muscles, starting with the toes, then the ankles, knees and work your way up to the head.
• Research has shown that New Age and classical music can help individuals fall asleep quickly and sleep for longer periods. Quiet melodic pieces with a slow beat and few if any rhythmic accents are the best choices. Choose music that slows the mind through 50-60 beats per minute rather than the 120 plus beats per minute that some types of music can literally assault the brain with. A wide range of classical music can help insomniacs to sleep. In fact, the music of Mozart, in particular the second movements of his concertos, serenades and sonatas, have been reported to “lull some members of his audience, sated with dinner and drink and breathing shallowly in their costumes into slumber land”.
• Take melatonin supplements. Melatonin is a hormone that is manufactured in the pineal gland in the brain. It is needed to regulate the body's sleep rhythms. The body's ability to produce this hormone can be hampered by several factors, including getting too much light. Even a night light shining five feet away can reduce the amount of melatonin produced by the brain. If you have light shining into your bedroom, wear eye shades and/or use heavy light-blocking curtains. Melatonin production can also be affected by electromagnetic fields (EMF). We are exposed to EMF from many devices including computer monitors, clock radios, televisions, stereos, and cellphones. If possible, keep these devices at least six feet away from your bed.
Changing your sleep habits and addressing any underlying causes of insomnia can restore restful sleep for many people. If these measures do not work, get in touch with your doctor.
Dr Jacqueline E Campbell is a family physician, university lecturer, and radio show host. She is the author of the book A patient's guide to the treatment of diabetes mellitus. Email her at: email@example.com