WHAT IS INSOMNIA?
Essentially it's being awake when you wish to, want to, need to be asleep. Another way to put it is, you're not getting the amount of sleep you need to feel "good," "productive," "energetic" or even "ok" in the morning - all descriptions as defined by you.
- Either taking too long to get to sleep - i.e., more than 30 minutes, or -
- Sleeping fitfully, or -
- Waking up too early, or -
- Waking up during the night and finding it difficult to get back to sleep.
IN GENERAL: Technically speaking, it's considered that there are three kinds of insomnia:
- Transient: That's when you can't sleep because of something specific but short-lived - like you're falling in love, or you're coming down with a cold, or you've got a big meeting in the morning or you're over-stimulated by attending a great concert performance.
- Short-Term: Lasts about three weeks. You've got problems at home or work and they're disturbing your sleep - or you're pregnant and downright uncomfortable. But once the root problem is resolved, the insomnia disappears too.
- Chronic - or Long-Term: You are sleep deprived often, perhaps always. There may be underlying physical/medical reasons for your insomnia - such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, asthma, chronic sinusitis, epilepsy or ulcers. Other factors might include drug or alcohol abuse, excessive caffeine intake or abuse of sleeping pills. And there may be underlying emotional/psychological factors, such as anxiety or depression. In any of these cases, professional treatment is the only sensible way to deal with chronic insomnia and that should start with a visit to your medical doctor.
Most people need something like eight hours of sleep a night. Some can get by with less (Thomas Edison needed only five hours a night - Lucky him!); some need a little more (Albert Einstein needed nine or ten a night). The average teenager, by the way, needs 9 1/4 hours per night. (There's a lot going on in those teenage bodies - and minds!)
OUR BUSY-BUSY LIVES: Many people these days lead such busy-busy lives that they try to gain time by cutting down on sleep time - which is not a wise choice, as it turns out. We need a good night's sleep for our bodies and minds to get back into "proper-alignment" (that's what it feels like to us) in order to deal effectively with the stressful days so many of us have in contemporary life.
BALANCE IN LIFE: You can't just work. You can't just drive yourself at maximum - all the time - every day. You must have balance in your life to lead a satisfying life. That means allotting adequate time for pleasurable activities - including a social life. We all need to connect with others. Without those connections, life is pretty, well, - empty. We have observed that we ourself sleep better when we've had a good meaty conversation or a pleasant evening with lots of laughter with friends, than when we haven't. Must be something about connecting with people we like, that calms us down and makes us feel good inside - all over...
THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD SLEEP: We humans - perhaps all living beings - get a lot done while we sleep. We deeply relax, we process the day's events, we regenerate depleted cells and we heal our bodies - and souls. You want to be sure to give yourself full benefit from sleep by allowing enough time to calm down and get your full measure of sleep (that's whatever it takes to make you feel refreshed in the morning) and be productive the next day.
YOU'RE ONE SYSTEM: A most important concept to understand about yourself as a human being is that your physical being and your emotional/mental being are all part of one system. The best health protection you can give yourself in general - throughout your life - is to maintain healthy habits that keep your body and mind in good - preferably great - condition. That means, among other things, maintaining the proper weight for your body through a healthy, low fat, low-sugar diet with plenty of exercise - both of which go a long way toward keeping you healthy in general.
TIME FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION: It also means treating your mind and emotions in a respectful manner. For instance, leaving time each week for mental and emotional activities such as personal, private reflection on issues of importance to you. Some people get this from their attendance at religious services. Others get it from meditation - or from taking a solitary walk in the woods. Some keep a daily journal. We recommend that however you wish to do it, be sure to give yourself adequate time for personal reflection, at least once a week - preferably more than that.
WHEN THERE'S A PROBLEM: It also means paying attention when there's a problem - and getting it treated with help from the proper professional. If you have been suffering from persistent insomnia for two to three weeks or longer, iSleepless.com recommends that you see your medical doctor. As noted there are many possible conditions, some of them serious or complex, that may be causing your problem. You should also be aware that insomnia can be a sign of emotional upset, distress or depression - especially if you tend to waken in the middle of the night or early in the morning - before you've had an adequate amount of sleep - and are unable to get back to sleep. If this is the case with you, we suggest you consult your medical doctor and/or a psychological professional.
CAUTION: If you are operating as a sleep-deprived person we caution you to be careful around dangerous machinery - such as an electric saw, a carving knife or, most importantly, an automobile - which you should not drive if you are at all - in any way - susceptible to falling asleep in your tired state. SLEEPY DRIVERS ARE DANGEROUS DRIVERS!
Recent statistics have shown that sleepy drivers are as dangerous and destructive as intoxicated drivers. In fact, statistics have shown that a major cause of accidents at work and on the road is drowsiness from lack of sleep. Just to show how dangerous drowsiness can be, more than 40,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths each year result from traffic accidents involving sleepy drivers. Perhaps you won't be surprised then to learn that on the day after we switch to daylight savings time each spring, when we lose an hour's sleep, the accident rate shows a dramatic rise - consistently, every year. Interesting - and scary. That's why there's this campaign you may have seen that urges people to "Choose to Snooze." It's wise advice.
Insomnia is only now beginning to get the attention it deserves - now that research is showing that it's a great deal more prevalent - and troublesome - treacherous, actually - than previously thought. We advise that you be responsible to yourself and others and don't handle dangerous machinery - like automobiles - when you're overtired.
GOOD HEALTH: It's important to maintain good health - body health and emotional health. A major cause of insomnia is stress and/or anxiety - both common components of modern life. Take care of the issues that cause you stress or anxiety and your insomnia will probably lessen - or even disappear. Of course that sounds a great deal simpler than it is. But in general, one should address emotional issues as seriously and professionally as one addresses physical issues. We have more about stress and anxiety in our section on Emotional Issues.
LEADING A GOOD LIFE: Leading a busy, full and satisfying life is one of the best defenses against insomnia. It stands to reason that people who feel productive and reasonably happy, are less likely to suffer from insomnia than those who are dealing with difficult situations or other problems. If you are having difficulty creating a life that works for you - a life that feels good and satisfying and pleasurable - you might want to look at the personal issues that keep you from achieving these goals. You may want to consider SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP so that you can achieve your own personal goals.
WAKING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT: If your problem is not so much falling asleep at night but awakening in the middle of the night and being unable to get back to sleep, before you've completed your sleep needs, you should be aware that this can be a sign of depression or anxiety and if the problem persists it should be addressed by an appropriate professional. If you feel confident that you're not depressed, that things are going well in your life and for some reason you're simply wide awake in the middle of the night, you might try some of the COPING ACTIVITIES we list in that segment. Or take a look at our SLEEPLESS BOUTIQUE (sorry - temporarily closed.) There's all kinds of interesting stuff there.
SOMETIMES: Sometimes you've just got to grin and bear it. So there you are - wide awake - it's one of THOSE nights. Not much you can do about it, so you might as well try to enjoy it. Or make use of it by being productive. Great. Do check into our segment on COPING ACTIVITIES if you're looking for something to do. Or, visit our SLEEPLESS BOUTIQUE for all kinds of goodies (sorry - temporarily closed). Or check our page of links for other sites of interest.
EARLY AWAKENING: Awakening early in the morning, before you've completed your sleep needs, also can be a sign of depression or anxiety and if the problem persists it should be addressed by an appropriate professional. If you feel confident that you're not depressed, that things are going well in your life and for some reason you're simply wide awake early in the morning, you might try some of the COPING ACTIVITIES we list in that segment.
HAVING TO PEE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT: First, try limiting the amount of liquid you drink a few hours before bedtime so that you lessen the need to wake up to urinate. Be aware, though, that the need to urinate in the middle of the night, while normal for many people, could be a sign of a medical condition that requires treatment - from prostrate cancer to elevated blood sugar or diebetes - important reasons to check with your doctor if you're having trouble sleeping. These are serious conditions that should not be left untreated.
GET OUT OF BED AND BE PRODUCTIVE: If you've been in bed for more than half an hour and you're still awake - either at the beginning of the night or in the middle, it's best to get out of bed and try to do something productive.
GETTING INVOLVED IN AN ACTIVITY: Once you get yourself involved in an activity you're likely to find yourself getting tired again - and can return to sleep. We present many possible activities in the segment called COPING ACTIVITIES. If you have been up for a while now and it's late - too late to get a good night's sleep - we offer some TECHNIQUES to help get you through the day when you feel wretched from sleep deprivation.
A SLEEP DIARY: Here's something you can do that can help you understand the root of your sleep problem better - keep a sleep diary. Before you go to bed each night, make a note of what you did that day, what problems you encountered in your life - and how you felt about them - what sort of interactions you had with people, what you ate and drank, and when, what you did in the evening and what you did before going to bed. In the morning, note how the night went. Be as specific and detailed as possible. Keep this diary for at least ten days or two weeks and see what patterns show up. Perhaps you're having most of your trouble sleeping on nights when you've had a difficult day at the office - or at home - or with the kids - or your in-laws. Or nights when you've had a large, greasy steak for dinner. Or maybe you're drinking too much coffee - or too much cola. We know a fellow who had a stubborn sleep problem for years and neither he, nor his doctor, nor his therapist, could figure it out - until a friend made a comment about his habit of sipping cola all day long. Your sleep diary can tell you a lot if you will take the time and trouble to note all the details - even things that don't seem important at the time - like sipping cola throughout the day.
AS YOU AGE, you may need somewhat less sleep. But still insomnia can become a problem - especially if it becomes more frequent and entrenched as you age. If the natural factors in the aging process are part of the cause of your insomnia, please go to our segment, THE AGING FACTOR. You may also find some help within our 99 REMEDIES, as well as suggestions for things to do while waiting to get sleepy (again) under COPING ACTIVITIES. If you have recently suffered the loss of a partner please go to our HELP WITH GRIEF & MOURNING segment for help.
MENOPAUSE: If you are approaching, are in or past Menopause you may well be having trouble sleeping. The hormones that once helped you to sleep have been reduced as a natural function of aging. You might consider HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), a treatment that should be discussed carefully with your doctor, as it has some downside as well as an excellent upside. It seems that some women find relief from the symptoms of menopause, including sleeplessness, once they are on HRT. You should also consider other issues, such as: Is your weight appropriate - or are you too heavy? Are you too sedentary, or inactive? What else is going on in your life? Are there issues that are upsetting you? - issues that you could be working on to resolve?
We hope you will find effective aids to sleep within our program. Why not start with RELAXATION BREATHING?
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