Patricia Zifferblatt | October 15, 2007

I’m having a difficult time getting a good night’s sleep. Is there anything I can do?”

Welcome to the club! Your question is one we at Better Life hear often, especially in today’s fast-paced world.

Simply put, insomnia is the body’s inability to sleep or to sleep well, usually caused by too much stress or worry, too much alcohol or caffeine, or living a too-fast-paced life. These are the simple causes for insomnia not related to medical or nutritional imbalances. It’s estimated that over 40 million people in the U.S. suffer from some type of sleep disorder, so it’s no wonder there are so many ads for sleep aids on television as well as in magazines and newspapers. Most people have experienced insomnia at some time in their lives.

Experts suggest that the average adult requires 8-10 hours of sleep in order to rest, relax, and repair the body, but very few people are able to get the suggested amount of sleep every night, and that leads to a lack of energy for the next day’s activities. This action-reaction then causes the body to work extra hard to make it through the day, leading to more stress, an impaired immune system, as well as other maladies. Call it “The Domino Effect.”

So what’s a body to do? Here are some suggestions:
  1. Reduce the amount of caffeine you drink during the later part of the day and restrict all caffeine after 6:00 p.m.

  2. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink in the evening, since it can have a rebound effect. What does this mean? The alcohol will make you sleepy, you go to sleep, and then a few hours later, you awaken and can’t get back to sleep. So you toss and turn and are exhausted in the morning.

  3. Learn how to do relaxation exercises or yoga. Doing these exercises on a regular basis can help you relax your body for sleep. Improving your level of fitness helps as well--a fitter, thinner body usually sleeps better and requires a little less sleep.

  4. Drink a cup of herbal-relaxant tea; chamomile tea is an excellent relaxer. Make it part of your bedtime ritual, along with anything else that relaxes you and takes your mind off tomorrow’s “to do” list, such as reading or listening to music.

  5. Valerian root, another herb is excellent for helping to get a good night’s sleep without any aftereffects in the morning. In addition, the herb passionflower can help an individual stay more calm throughout the day without the side-effects of a prescription--but people with ragweed allergies may not be able to use this herb.

  6. Take two B-complex and two calcium supplements at bedtime. These supplements can help the body unwind for better sleep.

  7. Think about whether your bed is part of the problem. It may be the wrong firmness or it may be too small for you and your sleeping partner. If your partner’s snoring is keeping you awake, wear ear plugs--you’ll still hear the alarm.

  8. Plan a schedule for your day that allows you time to get “off the boat” early enough so that you can get a good night’s sleep. Most people set their “to do” list too unrealistically and try to pack in too many activities every day. And if you’re the person who tries to do too much in one day, who suffers in the long run? Think about it!

  9. Many underlying health issues can lead to insomnia--depression, sleep apnea, restless legs, and so on. Your doctor can help with those, so if simple measures don’t do the trick, make an appointment to discuss your insomnia with your doctor. Sleep medications have improved dramatically in the last few years, so you don’t need to fear them. If you needed insulin, you’d take it, wouldn’t you? Using a sleep aid if you need it is the smart thing to do because a good night’s sleep is essential to good health.
I don’t want to simplify what for some is a complex issue, but sometimes one must break down a problem to the lowest common denominator in order to find a solution. It’s very important for anyone suffering from any type of sleeping problem to see a doctor for medical suggestions and causes for the on-going problem, but in the meantime, chill out, enjoy life to the fullest, and try to get a good night’s sleep.

And now an aside: I’m the mother of nine children, and I know what it’s like to live my life in a sleepless fog. I don’t remember getting a decent night’s sleep for the 25 years I was having and raising my children. And yet I made it through those wonderful, if sleepless, years just like other mothers. Now that my children are grown and have families, they’re experiencing their own sleepless nights!

When I look back at the photographs that were taken of me and my children during those very busy and sleepless days and nights, I see a smiling woman with dark circles under her eyes. So that gives me the excuse today to make up for lost time, so to speak. I make sure I get my 8-10 hours every night, and you know what? I feel very well for my 75+ years, and those dark circles? Gone!
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