Insomnia is defined as difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep and affects 30-50% of the North American population. It is a symptom that is experienced by all age groups, but tends to increase with age. Why is insomnia a concern? Without adequate sleep our daily functioning is impaired resulting in more frequent accidents. But adequate restful sleep is also required to allow our mind and body time to repair and regenerate from the day’s activities. The importance of good, restful sleep cannot be emphasized enough in our overall general health.
Insomnia can be divided into four categories:
1. Difficulty falling asleep
2. Frequent or sustained awakenings
3. Early morning awakenings
4. Persistent sleepiness despite sleep of adequate duration
In addressing insomnia it is important to explore the underlying causes such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, poor bladder control, cortisol/melatonin disruptions, stress, anxiety, depression or pain disorders. Other factors such as shift work, eating late at night, caffeine, alcohol, or medications may also contribute to sleep disturbance.
Journaling or writing a to-do list before going to bed can help relieve excessive thinking that may occur at night. Regular exercise helps promote healthy sleep patterns, granted it is performed at least 3 hours before bed. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, which can all cause sleep disturbances. Try not to eat within 2 hours of going to bed. Create a sleep routine by getting to bed the same time each night. In addition to practicing good sleep hygiene, a variety of supplements and herbs can be useful to promote healthy restful sleep including: melatonin, magnesium, chamomile, passionflower, oat, lemon balm, and valerian. These interventions can be helpful to reduce anxiety and promote a relaxed state required for sleeping.