By Godfrey Onime, MD
Insomnia is a complicated condition. As many as 40 million people all across America lay in their bed night after night tossing and unable to either fall asleep or stay asleep. Many develop depression from the wear and tear on their bodies from a lack of rest. It turns out that each one of these people is not suffering from the same problem.
Sleeping pill companies run ads promising miracle rest if you just pop their pills. But as you probably know, sleeping pills don’t always work. This may be because you are treating the wrong condition. Following is a brief guide on common causes insomnia, the treatments, and potential solutions to start to embrace beauty sleep.
Look to Your Habits
This is the first piece of advice you’ll get from practically any expert about sleep disorders, and for good reason. Today we spend hours looking at screens right before we try to close our eyes, or simply don’t have relaxing bedtime routines to sufficiently calm our minds down.
Another habit is to reach for a glass of alcohol before bed. While alcohol is known for having a relaxing effect, it however doesn’t afford the restful sleep needed to function properly the next day. Even if you aren’t constantly waking up throughout the night, you might be surprised to see just how much disruption you have throughout the night if you’re having a glass of wine directly before bed.
Another big offender is stimulants. Hopefully you already know to stay away from any type of caffeine, but stimuli can also come in the form of other culprits (e.g., allergy medications, antidepressants, etc.)
The Deeper Meanings
If there’s nothing wrong with your routines, it could be a disease that’s causing the trouble. Examples are:
- Sleep apnea or arthritis — It could be the pain from these conditions that’s stealing your sleep.
- Normal side effects of aging in men –– such as enlargement of the prostate gland. This can keep a person awake through repeated trip to the bathroom for urination throughout the night, disrupting restful sleep.
- Normal havoc of aging in women– such as menopause, where hot flashes can keep you awake and, again, distrusting sweet sleep.
- Depression and anxiety– which continue to plague our society and cripple otherwise healthy people.
- Yes, there’s also such a thing as an overactive brain –– this can be associated with primary insomnia, a disorder that does not fit the category of general physical or mental illness.
If you suspect that your insomnia may be caused by any of these conditions, it is time to pay a visit to your physician and give them a detailed history. That way, your doctor can run the necessary tests to diagnose the underlying condition so that you can receive the best treatment for your insomnia.
Homeopathic Remedies: Proceed With Caution
You may be tempted to follow the advice of every every Dick and Harry to switch from sleeping pills to other herbal or “natural” treatments, as it is often put. The problem with this is that it may not treat the underlying condition either. Yes, powerful drugs like Ambien and Lumnesta may come with enough negative side effects to make their benefits come into question. For instance, Dr. Wintemute of the University of Toronto has pointed out that prescription drugs can cause memory problems, but “natural” regimens have their share of problems. For some, melatonin causes upset stomachs or headaches. More importantly, natural remedies may not play well with other medications you’re taking, and they may even increase the risk of seizures in rare cases.
A Better Way
Unfortunately there really aren’t many quick fixes for insomnia, but identifying underlying causes and treating them is a always a great start. However, the best and universal cure of insomnia is through getting healthy. Eat better. Exercise. You may even need to start some type of therapy to start adjusting your thoughts during the day so you can relax at night. Healing sleep starts with taking care of yourself, both during the day and at night.
On to You
Do you have problems with sleep? What do you find frustrating about this and what helps. Please leave a comment.
About the Author
Dr. Godfrey Onime is a practicing physician in Lumberton, North Carolina. His essays have appeared in the New York Times, Guideposts Magazine, and the collection of Stories, The Country Doctor Revisited, among others. Besides practicing medicine, he teaches medical students and residents, and enjoys writing and editing for HealAway. Follow him on Twitter @GodfreyOnime.