According to the National Institute of Health, insomnia is a disorder that affects nearly 60 million Americans. Almost everyone experiences insomnia at one point or another, but often the condition becomes a chronic problem. Some people have trouble falling asleep while others have difficulty maintaining quality sleep. These people do not feel refreshed once morning arrives. The consequences of prolonged insomnia can be serious. One study from 2013 examined the three aspects of insomnia I just mentioned -difficulty falling to sleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, and non-restorative sleep- and found that the more of these symptoms a person reported, the greater the risk of heart failure. A 17% increased chance of developing heart failure was associated with having one symptom, while a 92% increased chance was associated with having two symptoms. Having all three symptoms nearly tripled the likelihood of heart failure! Lower performance at work or at school, an increased risk of accidents, obesity, a greater tendency to abuse drugs and diabetes are only a few additional problems that insomnia may bring on its train.
Estimates of total insomnia-related costs in the United States have ranged from $30 to 107.5 billion per year. This estimate includes direct treatment costs, such as physician encounters and prescriptions, as well as indirect costs, such as consumption of medical services, increased accident risk, and lost workplace productivity.
Like many health issues, the causes of insomnia are multi-factorial. Exercise, stress, technology, hormone levels, blood sugar levels, irregular daily habits, food choices, consumption of drugs and medications are all examples of variables that profoundly affect quality of sleep.
I’ll go a little deeper into some of these factors to explain a few ideas that may go a long way to helping restore wholesome sleep. First is exercise. My patients offer me many rationales for avoiding exercise, but the bottom line is: You gotta do it. Do you need a gym membership? No! Most people are willing and capable of taking three brisk ten-minute walks a day. Sweat a little (just a little) and you will be surprised at how far this goes toward relaxing you at night.
Second, make your room dark. And I do mean dark. Purchase black out curtains, use duct tape, do whatever it takes. Let no ray of outside light shine into your bedroom. Darkness facilitates the production of melatonin, which facilitates sleep. Even a small amount of light will interfere with this process.
Technology is a challenging one and I have two recommendations that address this point. First do no activity that involves technology for two hours prior to your bedtime. Reading is fine, artwork is great, baths are fantastic, but TV and computer time is out. Meditation, even for ten minutes, will help you relax. Next, try unplugging every plug in your bedroom. The electromotive force produced by an outlet interferes with your body’s own delicate magnetic balance. I have successfully helped insomniacs by having them turn off the circuit breaker to their bedroom!
Fourth, do not eat anything for four hours before sleeping. One possible exception to this rule would be those who have blood sugar issues, in which case a light protein snack is recommended. Avoid alcohol prior to sleep. Chinese medicine postulates that those who wake at 3 a.m. may have a liver block; my experience is that late-night consumption of alcohol leads to such a pattern.
Finally, sleep is a quintessentially circadian process. Your sleep schedule relies upon routine. Try to create a very regular, habitual schedule for yourself. Every day -even on weekends and vacations- get up at the same time, go down at the same time, eat at the same time and exercise at the same time. Such a routine is very difficult to maintain, but you will be astonished at how quickly your sleep patterns will respond to this discipline.
Dr. Daniel Smith practices at Bear Creek Naturopathic Clinic. His office is on 2612 Barnett Ave. He specializes in naturopathic oncology, but still maintains a strong family practice, treating all manner of conditions. He can be reached at 541-770-5563 or at firstname.lastname@example.org If you would like to schedule an appointment, please ask specifically for Dr. Dan.