Can’t sleep? Are you tossing and turning all night? Feel tired all day? You are probably suffering from a form of insomnia. Insomnia is characterized by an inability to sleep and/or to be incapable of remaining asleep for a reasonable period. Insomniacs typically complain of being unable to close their eyes or “rest their mind” for more than a few minutes at a time. It is often caused by fear, stress, anxiety, medications, herbs or caffeine. An overactive mind or physical pain may also be causes. The best way to effectively combat insomnia is to find its underlying cause.
What Is Insomnia? According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 60 million Americans suffer from insomnia each year, which is the highest among the developed nations. Insomnia tends to increase with age and affects about 40 percent of women and 30 percent of men. The average American gets 7 hours of sleep, instead of the 8 to 10 hours recommended by doctors. There are many classifications for different types of insomnia. Insomnia may be classified as transient, acute (short-term), and chronic. Insomnia lasting from one night to a few weeks is referred o as transient. This is generally the case for most people, as one could be suffering from jet lag or short-term anxiety. If this form of insomnia continues to occur from time to time, the insomnia is classified to be intermittent. Acute insomnia is the inability to consistently sleep well for a period of three weeks to six months. However, after this time, the person does not experience insomniatic episodes. Insomnia is considered to be chronic, the most serious, if it persists almost nightly for at least a month, and sometimes longer.
In many cases, insomnia is caused by another disease or psychological problem. In this case, medical or psychological help may be useful. All sedative drugs have the potential of causing psychological dependence where the individual can’t psychologically accept that they can sleep without drugs. Certain classes of sedatives such as benzodiazepines and newer non-benzodiazepine drugs can also cause physical dependence which manifests in withdrawal symptoms if the drug is not carefully titrated down.
Some traditional remedies for insomnia have included drinking warm milk before bedtime, taking a warm bath in the evening; exercising vigorously for half an hour in the afternoon, eating a large lunch and then having only a light evening meal at least three hours before bed, avoiding mentally stimulating activities in the evening hours, and making sure to get up early in the morning and to retire to bed at a reasonable hour.
Traditional Chinese medicine has included treatment for insomnia throughout its history. A typical approach may utilize acupuncture, dietary and lifestyle analysis, herbology and other techniques, with the goal of resolving the problem at a subtle level. Although these methods have not been scientifically proven, some insomniacs report that these remedies are sufficient to break the insomnia cycle without the need for sedatives and sleeping tablets. The more relaxed a person is, the greater the likelihood of getting a good night’s sleep. Relaxation techniques such as meditation have been proven to help people sleep. Such techniques can lower stress levels from both the mind and body, which leads to a deeper, more restful sleep.