It is not unusual to have difficulty sleeping from time to time. However, if you feel that you do not get enough sleep or satisfying sleep, you may have insomnia. Insomnia is a sleeping disorder that affects one in seven Canadians. People with insomnia have one or more of the following:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up often during the night and having trouble going back to sleep
- Waking up too early in the morning
- Un-refreshing sleep
The two basic types of insomnia are acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term).
Acute insomnia can last anywhere from one night to a few weeks. Causes for acute insomnia can include: illness, stress, jet lag, or environmental factors such as noise or light, which interfere with sleep.
Chronic insomnia lasts for a month or more and is often caused by depression, pain or stress. Treatment for chronic insomnia must address the underlying condition or health problems that are causing the insomnia.
It is not recommended to use over the counter sleeping pills for insomnia. Most medicines that are used for sleep have side effects and must be used with caution. Often these medications cause daytime drowsiness, dependency and can cause rebound insomnia unless even higher doses are taken.
Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
- Avoid strenuous exercise before bedtime. Do not exercise at least three hours before bedtime.
- Turn off the TV at least thirty minutes before bedtime.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (or on most days).
- Create a relaxing bedtime ritual, like taking a hot bath with aromatherapy oils.
- Sleep primarily at night. Daytime naps steal hours from nighttime slumber. Limit daytime sleep to less than one hour, no later than 3pm.
- Eat lightly in the evening. A heavy meal too close to bedtime interferes with sleep. If you need a snack, try eating things that raise your melatonin production. Suggestions include: chicken, pumpkin seeds, turkey, oats, rice, ginger, barley, and tomatoes.
- Avoid bright light around the house before bed. Using dimmer switches in living rooms and bathrooms before bed can be helpful. This includes light from computers and smartphones.
- Avoid caffeine at least six hours (and preferably eight hours) before bedtime. This stimulant found in coffee, pop, tea and chocolate can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Use the bed only for sleeping and sex. Avoid watching TV, using laptop computers, or reading in bed.
- Avoid looking at the clock if you wake up in the middle of the night. It can cause anxiety.
- If you can’t get to sleep for over thirty minutes, get out of bed and do something boring in dim light till you are sleepy.
- If you have trouble lying awake worrying about things, try making a to-do list before you go to bed. This may help you to “let go” of those worries.
- Avoid alcohol. Although alcohol is a depressant and may help you fall asleep, the subsequent metabolism that clears if from your body when you are sleeping causes a withdrawal syndrome. This withdrawal causes awakenings and is often associated with nightmares and sweats.
- Deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals may disrupt sleep. Ensure that you are taking adequate doses of calcium, magnesium and B vitamins. Some people find a tea of chamomile or valerian especially beneficial.
- Seek the help of an acupuncturist. Acupuncture is particularly effective in treating insomnia. Many people report immediate improvements in their sleeping habits. With acupuncture, the sensation of sleep comes easily, lasts without interruption, and is deeper and more refreshing. Chinese Medicine recognizes many forms of insomnia, and each is treated with a different combination of points, as well as different herbal formulas. Treatments are tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual.
Insomnia is a condition affecting nearly everyone at some point in his or her life. It is important to remember however that insomnia is not defined by the number of hours you sleep every night. The amount of sleep a person needs varies. While most people need between seven and eight hours of sleep a night, other people do well with less, and some need more. If you do think that you have insomnia, try making a few simple lifestyle changes, or visit and acupuncturist to investigate it further.