If you’ve been walking around tired, cranky, and with bloodshot eyes, you’re probably one of the millions of people suffering from sleep deprivation. Every year, millions of people turn to prescription medications to help them get a restful night’s sleep, but is that really the best answer?
Sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and other prescribed drugs may seem like the instant fix, but studies show that a significant percentage of prescribed “sleeping aids” fail to deal with the individual’s real problem.
Before you go looking for a method to achieving peaceful sleep, you must first realize some things about insomnia.
Unlike Narcolepsy or Sleep Apnea(interference with breathing during sleep), Insomnia is typically characterized by not being able to fall asleep 10 to 20 minutes after attempting to do so. The longer it takes to actually fall asleep, the worse the case of insomnia.
Other types of insomnia deal with habitually waking from sleep and being unable to resume. We’ll take a look at the former, and some of the methods that former insomniacs swear by, including me.
Medication is probably the quickest way to resolve your sleep problems, but be aware that they are far from the best. First of all, most medications tend to stay in the body for long periods of time, so any liver or kidney problems would complicate your long term health.
Another facet of prescription medication is that they work for a few weeks, but then your body builds up a tolerance to them, requiring larger doses to achieve the same effect. The most commonly prescribed drugs to aid sleep come from the group, benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are basically anti-anxiety drugs and were never created to address sleep disorders. Their sole purpose is simply to induce sleep.
There is a likelihood that you can become chemically dependent on drugs like these, and just as likely that withdrawal symptoms will occur when stopped. The most common benzodiazepines used for sleep aids are Valium and Dalmane, both of which must be prescribed.
Another commonly prescribed group of drugs to aid sleep are barbiturates, like the commonly used Seconal. The way barbiturates work is by depressing the central nervous system. This in turn, basically knocks you out. Like benzodiazepines, barbiturates are also capable of becoming dependent and causing withdrawal symptoms upon their stoppage. Barbiturates, however, have been noted to possibly cause anemia, and can be fatal when mixed with alcohol.
It is important to note that medications like the two groups stated above do put you sleep, but fail to allow the “deep sleep” and R.E.M. needed to feel well-rested by morning. A medication that does claim to allow this, is the much highly-touted Melatonin.
Melatonin is all-natural and available over the counter at most drug stores. When taken, it is supposed to allow you to drift to sleep in about 30 minutes and wake 6 to 8 hours later feeling refreshed and well-rested. It works by becoming a secretion of your pineal gland and inducing that tired, languid feeling before falling asleep.
For some time Melatonin was regarded as not only a cure for insomnia but also as a step towards a cure for cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and many more illnesses. For some, unfortunately, Melatonin does not work, and in some cases may even induce a rapid heartbeat.
Exercise does not always aid in falling asleep. While exercise does relieve tension and stress, it’s better to do so during mornings or before your last meal, at the latest. Because exercise actually raises the body temperature which in turn, wakes you up, exercise before bedtime is not a good way to tackle insomnia.
Many former insomniacs have turned to meditation and yoga to ease their nights. Practicing meditation and yoga is similar to reading a book because they are all inducive to mind and body relaxation. Yoga actually loosens the muscles in the body, putting it in a state close to that of being asleep.
Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of insomnia, are the presleep rituals an individual practices. When do you eat your last meal and what’s in it? Do you consume a lot of candy or caffeine, plunk down on the bed and expect to fall asleep on a sugar high? The diet is an important facet of sleep, and even more important when it may be one of the obstacles getting you there.
Hunger is as much a deterrent to falling asleep as is having a heavy meal. It’s important to get your last meal well out of the way before turning in for the night. And in case you’ve forgotten and your mother isn’t there to remind you, a glass of warm milk isn’t just for kids. The warm milk contains calcium and tryptophan– you know, that junk in the turkey that makes you drowsy.
A friend once suggested to me that I keep my bedroom off-limits to everything else but sleep. Make my body grow accustomed to the sensation that lying in the bed equals sleep. It’s a great idea but unfortunately didn’t work for me. It is important, though, to make sure your sleeping environment is inducive to sleep.
Make sure your bed, sheets, etc., are comfortable. If they’re not, it’s highly unlikely that whoever’s lying in them will be. Play with your bedroom lighting. Try dimming the lights a few degrees and see if it facilitates the ease in which you drift off. And while it hasn’t been scientifically proven, most people find cooler room temperatures more inducive to sleep,
especially when there’s a warm bed providing salvation.
Another great tip is to take a warm bath before bedtime. The surrounding warm water actually relaxes your muscles and alters your body temperature to that similar to sleeping.
Be aware that most of the time, insomnia isn’t about just not being able to fall asleep, it’s usually about something else. Taking care of your health is common knowledge, but things like stress, sexual frustration, or unrelieved tension can become the root of a detrimental illness like insomnia.
Try different things like reading, leaving the T.V. on with the volume almost inaudible, or boring yourself to sleep. I found that treating insomnia is as subjective a task if there is one, and what works for everyone else might not work for you.
Remember that tiredness can be caused by too much sleep as well as too little, and catching up on the weekends is more harmful than good, as it leads to irregular sleep patterns.
If you can’t pinpoint what’s bothering you, and absolutely nothing seems to work, it’s important to consult a physician. Other than that, it’s all about finding the method that relaxes you and puts you enough at ease to finally reach that dreamy goal. Good night.