Chasing the big zzz
Most people at some stage in their lives will have trouble sleeping. Some people find it takes them a long time to get to sleep, and that they don't sleep soundly when they do. Instead, they'll wake up a few times during the night, or find themselves waking up too early in the morning and not being able to go back to sleep. If this describes your sleeping pattern then you have the symptoms of insomnia.
It's vital to get adequate sleep -- like regular exercise and eating sensibly, it is an important feature of having a healthy lifestyle.
Young adults need between six and eight hours of consistent sleep. To be effective, sleep must be continuous. It is not as beneficial to sleep for four to five hours a night and nap during the day -- you will not feel as rested as you would if you had had an unbroken sleep.
Long-term insomnia often stems from such health conditions as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, asthma, chronic sinusitis, epilepsy, ulcers and depression.
It can also be brought on by chronic drug or alcohol use as well as by excessive consumption of beverages containing caffeine and abuse of sleeping pills.
If you have insomnia that lasts more than a few days, talk to your family doctor.
Ways to Improve Sleep
There are some simple ways of improving your sleep:
>Going to bed at the same time each day and getting up at the same time will help to regulate your sleep.
>Never go to bed too early and try to force yourself to sleep. This will make it worse.
>Only go when you are feeling sleepy. Get up at a regular time each morning, even at weekends to get into a sleeping pattern.
>Take regular aerobic exercise each day and avoid exercising too late at night -- you should exercise at least three hours before going to bed.
>If you go to bed and cannot sleep get up and leave the bedroom, read or watch TV.
>Take a warm bath or find some other way to relax before slipping between the sheets again.
>Avoid eating heavy meals late at night.
>Don't worry too much if you cannot sleep for a couple of nights, the anxiety will make the problem worse, try not to dwell on it too much, it may even correct itself.
Sleeping pills should only be a temporary measure and should be used for the shortest time possible, in the smallest effective dose.
They may be initially helpful but they can also cause disturbed sleep and have side effects, including a sleep "hangover" during the day. Also, you may become dependent on them.
In older people taking sleeping pills may prove hazardous as they may feel groggy during the day.
There is a hormone in the brain called melatonin which is important in the induction of sleep. Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland, which lies deep in the brain. Normal melatonin levels are highest during the night.
Melatonin levels fall with age, which would account for high levels of insomnia among older people.
The hormone helps to reduce jet-lag symptoms and would appear to aid people with insomnia.
Melatonin supplements are sold in health shops and while the short-term benefits seem to be good, the long-term benefits have not yet been proven. Therefore, it would be advisable to consult a doctor before taking any such substance.
Poor sleep may be a sign of some underlying health problem. Most sleep disorders, whether caused by physical or mental factors, can be treated or managed effectively once they are properly diagnosed.
Sometimes, insomnia related to things going on in your life may go away on its own. Chronic insomnia, which may be caused by depression or anxiety, may require special treatment and it may also go away on its own.