Is it lights out for another night of insomnia? Are you exhausted but your brain just won’t go into sleep mode? If you’ve had insomnia at least for at least one month (primary insomnia), you’re not alone, America.
The last time I went to see my doctor, I got exactly 5 minutes of his time as he was backing out the door to see his next patient holding his laptop computer in his hands. Doctors are pushed by insurance companies to see huge volumes of 30 or more patients a day. No matter how great that doctor is, they are going to miss something during this very abbreviated assessment. Most of us go see our doctors for one or more reasons. It’s likely you’ll get your chief complaint addressed, but not much more.
So with that thought in mind, let’s say your complaint is that you can’t sleep. Given your provider’s allotted time, do you think they will take the time to sit down with you and explore possible causes and offer possible solutions or will they write a prescription for
sleeping pills? I believe you know the answer. You may have a bottle on your nightstand already. I hope you don’t, but if so, your problem just got bigger because sleeping pills are habit forming.
Possible Causes of Insomnia
- Stress: It’s normal to have your brain in overdrive the night before starting a new job, the first day of school or a major life changes. Travel, time zone changes and work schedules can also disrupt normal sleep. Adults (and even children) are so involved in a variety of commitments outside of home that downtime is not budgeted into the day’s schedule. It’s becoming more and more common for people to problem solve while their heads are lying on a pillow rather than getting the precious sleep their bodies require to stay healthy. That’s only one of a variety of reasons why sleep alludes so many.
- Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol: Some possible habit-related causes of poor sleep quality are consumption of caffeinated tea, coffee or cola later in the afternoon and evening. Caffeine is a stimulant; therefore it keeps your body revved up when it should be relaxing and preparing for sleep.
- Poor sleep habits: Watching TV in bed, working on your notebook or laptop computer in bed or viewing social media on your smart phone in bed are also ways your brain stays engaged rather than preparing for sleep.
- Sleep Apnea: If your partner (or you) snores, wakes frequently throughout the night, kicks in their sleep abruptly waking themselves up, wakes up after dreaming they’re falling or wakes up feeling more tired than when they went to bed, there’s a good chance they may have a chronic condition known as sleep apnea. It is extremely important to report these things to your health care provider to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment because there are major complications associated with people who have untreated sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea means you have actual pauses in breathing or shallow breaths. The body’s oxygen supply drops to below normal levels during that time. The good news is that effective treatment doesn’t have to involve medication or surgery. It may only require the use of a C-pap or Bi-pap device that blows a gentle amount of air through your nose to keep your airway open. (Watch for a future article on Sleep Apnea)
- Other medical conditions: Chronic pain, respiratory problems, restless leg syndrome, and need to urinate frequently can also interfere with sleep. (Subscribe or comment if you’d like to be notified of a future article on chronic pain.)
- Medications: Medications to treat heart conditions, high blood pressure (beta blockers), asthma (e.g. Prednisone, Theophylline), depression (e.g. Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil), ADHD, and some drugs used to treat thyroid conditions also cause insomnia. Pain relievers such as Excedrin, Anacin and Motrin Complete all contain caffeine. Some cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) e.g. Zocor have been reported to cause both insomnia and nightmares. Cold and allergies medications (antihistamines) are well known for their negative impact on sleep.
- Sleep environment: Consider how much time you spend in bed and invest in a good mattress. If your mattress is too soft or too firm or sags in the middle, you should consider replacement. Choose a pillow that is comfortable and based on whether you typically sleep on your back or your side. Eliminate the noise or use a device that makes white noise. If that isn’t possible, use earplugs designed to eliminate the noise. It is best to sleep in a room that is dark, but consider the safety aspect of using nightlights. If you work night shift and sleep during the day, use room-darkening shades to simulate nighttime sleep.
Complementary Options to improve sleep:
Complementary approaches to treating insomnia are found in the National Institute of Health (NIH) research. Tart cherry juice concentrate has been shown beneficial to increase melatonin levels and improve disturbed sleep .
Lavender essential oil, has a variety of uses including treatment of insomnia. It can either be applied to the soles of the feet at bedtime or used in aromatherapy and was shown to have a beneficial effect on insomnia and depression. In addition, for cold and allergy sufferers, lavender is a natural antihistamine.
Wishing you restful, restorative sleep,
Pam Baker, RN
NOTE: I highly recommend getting only the most potent essential oils. In order to be considered 100% pure, the bottle only has to contain 10% of the actual oil.
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