It's four in the morning and you're wide awake, your mind churning. You toss and turn, rehashing the past or worrying about the future, only to fall into a sound sleep twenty minutes before the alarm goes off. How can you be expected to live up to the busy day ahead on twenty minutes of sleep?
An occasional episode of insomnia can make it difficult to handle the day, and regular episodes of insomnia can make it difficult to handle life. If insomnia bedevils your nights, you could at least take comfort in the fact that you're not alone. It is estimated that one in four people suffers from insomnia regularly, and about six million people in the United States have such a serious problem that they rely on the regular use of prescription drugs to treat it.
The causes of insomnia are varied, but psychological factors are present in more than 50 percent of the cases. Environmental and dietary factors also play a prominent role, and statistics show that, for unknown reasons, insomnia is more common in females than males. Fortunately, lifestyle changes and herbal medicines can help treat the problem.
On the subject of sleeplessness
Insomnia is classified into two broad categories: sleep-onset insomnia, or difficulty falling asleep, and maintenance insomnia, which causes frequent or early waking. Treating either type of insomnia should begin with an awareness of your needs as well as other influential factors. All people don't require the same amount of sleep, for example, and some might only think they have a problem because they don't fit into the norm. Sleep cycles can vary among people and throughout a person's life, and while one person may only require four hours of sleep, others need ten hours to feel refreshed.
In addition, insomnia can be caused by anxiety, tension, emotional arousal, pain, caffeine, drugs, alcohol, or even worrying about falling asleep. Pinpointing whether one or more of these factors is wreaking havoc on your nights can often bring relief because through your awareness you can try to improve the situation. One way to avoid mind-churning insomnia is to abide by the twenty-minute rule: if you lie in bed for more than twenty minutes and can't fall asleep, get up and do something. Get your mind out of the circular problem of being kept awake by the inability to fall asleep. Read, iron that pile of clothes, or write in your journal.
If such a simple method doesn't help and you still lie awake nights, consider the following suggestions.
Health: Sleep disturbances may have underlying physiological causes, so treating the cause can solve the sleep problem. People suffering from hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, for example, may experience unsettling fluctuations in blood-sugar levels during the night. The brain needs a constant supply of glucose to function, and a drop in blood sugar signals the body to produce hormones and neurotransmitters that stimulate sugar release. The resulting rise in blood sugar may wake a person up. (A small amount of fruit or juice upon waking will relieve the symptoms.) It is important to have a correct diagnosis, however. If an exam and blood test reveal that you are hypoglycemic, you may wish to ask your health-care provider whether nutritional measures are appropriate for your condition.
Candida yeast infections sometimes influence blood-sugar levels as well, and a diagnosis and nutritional program may be in order to clear this up.