Insomnia, also known as sleeplessness or wakefulness, is usually defined as an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. This malady has been known for centuries, even before the advent of modern medicine—Shakespeare wrote about it in “Henry IV.”
Everyone has sleepless nights occasionally, but some individuals have chronic insomnia where the brain is not getting the rest it needs. Chronic sleep deprivation, not a sleep disorder, occurs when a person sleeps soundly, but just doesn’t get enough sleep. Some experts say we are a sleepy society, and most of us need at least one hour more of sleep nightly than we get. Although everyone doesn’t need the same amount of sleep, most people need between seven and nine hours each night. However some function well with only four or five hours a night. If you awaken feeling refreshed, you are getting enough rest.
The ideal drug for sleep has not yet been found, and medication should be a last resort. Insomnia is a symptom or indication of another problem, so is not an illness that can be cured by a sleeping pill. Furthermore, sleeping medications are not meant for long-term treatment. Melatonin is a non-prescription drug used for sleeplessness. It was in “vogue” years ago, then fell out of favor, and now it’s “in” again. I would want to consult a physician before trying it; although it’s quite safe, it may have some side effects.
The drug that is popular now and contained in almost all the available over-the-counter sleep preparations is an antihistamine named diphenhydramine (brand name Benadryl). Widely used for certain allergic conditions, diphenhydramine has a side effect of causing sleepiness. Prescription drugs are okay for short periods, and the newer ones are less addicting. But all sleep medications, including those that are available without prescription, may have side effects and if not needed, don’t depend on them. In fact, it is claimed that all drugs for sleep reverse their action after a few weeks. I have personally seen people become addicted to diphenhydramine.
Sleep specialists offer some possible solutions:
- A warm shower in the early evening can be beneficial.
- Practice relaxation techniques; use whatever works for you: deep breathing, meditation, watching television or reading until you fall asleep. Try flexing all the muscles, a few at a time, from the toes up to the face, then relax them, and take a few deep breaths. This also is a good winding-down technique after exercising.
- Boring days can produce insomnia. Look for new projects and get involved.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
- A regular sleep schedule sometimes helps.
- Exercise as much as tolerated daily or every other day.
- Get plenty of natural light exposure during the day.
- My favorite choices include 2 relaxation techniques:
- First, think of a number. Concentrate and picture it over and over, and your other concerns fade, with sleep coming fast. This takes some practice, as your mind may tend to wander, but after a few times, you can be successful.
- I have been a follower of deep abdominal breathing (called belly breathing) for a long time, and I notice it has become very popular now to ease stressful situations. Here’s how it works: relax your stomach muscles and inhale deeply into your abdomen. Inhale through your nose, exhaling slowly through your mouth. You should see and feel your abdomen expand and relax. Breathing in slowly for five seconds, and out the same way will help. Extensive research is being done with this technique. Some results show a decrease in hot flashes in menopausal women, reduced symptoms of premenstrual syndrome as well as depression, a lowering of blood pressure readings, even help in combating infertility.
After all is said and done, if insomnia comes on suddenly and has lasted more than a few days, see your physician as it could be caused by physical or emotional illness.