There is a sleep epidemic sweeping the country, and much of the western world. It’s easy to dismiss such warnings as media hyperbole, but experts are in agreement and it has triggered a serious drain on the nation’s resources.
According to the Harvard Medical School, people who sleep for less than five hours a night are increasing their risk of death by 15%. And while exhaustion, cardiovascular problems and immune suppression play a major role in those deaths, they are by no means the only cause. Someone who sleeps less is more likely to be involved in an accident and more likely to make a fatal mistake at work. As a result, they are not the only ones suffering.
And there is not always a clearly defined demographic. Whether you’re old or young, a garbage man, an injury lawyer or an IT technician, your odds of have a sleep disorder are very similar.
This is an epidemic because it is something that affects hundreds of millions of people, but it’s also an epidemic because it increases the risks that we all face on a day to day basis. It’s scary, it’s worrying, but there may be some simple solutions to these serious issues.
I have suffered from insomnia for most of my life, from the age of 9 or 10 to the age of 30. Only in the last couple of years have I been able to solve this issue and this is what worked for me.
I have always had issues with insomnia and it’s entirely related to the fact that I work all day and can’t shut down on a nighttime. Even when I wasn’t working a lot, I just couldn’t slow down, stop thinking and go to sleep. It’s something that many insomnia sufferers have to deal with and while there is no easy cure, there are a few things that can help.
One of these is to simply turn off your phone, because no matter what you try to tell yourself, it isn’t going to help you to sleep. Staring at the screen late at night is only going to keep you stimulated and alert and if you struggle to shut down as it is, then this is only going to make matters worse.
Having a ritual also helps. I find that reading a book helps a great deal and makes for a better nighttime ritual than watching TV or playing games. But music helps too. In my younger days I would turn on my favorite CD and have that playing in the background. Problem is, I only listen to heavy metal/rock music and when I settled down with my current partner, she wasn’t very keen on the idea of having thrash metal blasting throughout the night.
The trick is to find something that works while avoiding the glow of screens and over stimulation.
There are many herbal remedies out there that are prescribed for insomniacs. As someone who has suffered with this issue all of my life I can tell you that most just don’t work. Valerian, passion flower, chamomile—none of it. It can help to include a cup of chamomile in your nighttime ritual, but in itself it won’t work.
Melatonin does work though. In fact, in my case it actually worked better than many prescription medications and unlike those, it didn’t produce a long list of side effects and it didn’t leave me feeling terrible the next day. You will need to include it as a ritual though and don’t just take it and then think it will knock you out half an hour later.
Take it with a cup of chamomile and then settle into bed with a book. Within 30 minutes you’ll feel yourself getting sleepy and should be gone within the hour. If you continue to work, watch TV or do whatever you would usually do, then you’ll just stay awake right on through the effects.
Drugs are often the first course of treatment that many sufferers will seek. I went through many of these when I was younger, both prescribed and recreational. I self-medicated, I got high. I’m not proud of the fact, but I know now that none of them worked and if anything, it made things worse. The problem is that these drugs do work to begin with, but they tend to leave you fatigued the next day and after a few weeks, they stop working altogether.
If you’re taking sleeping pills regularly then you can get caught in a vicious cycle that leaves you a shadow of your former self and doesn’t even get rid of the insomnia. It’s not just sleeping pills either—many drugs, including those that seem to sedate you, will actually keep you awake.
I’ve had such experiences with pain killers and with benzodiazepines, and I’m not alone. The same goes for alcohol. We have these misconceptions that these substances make us tired and to an extent they do, but alcohol and many other drugs like this either trigger an erratic and intermittent sleep, or they sedate your body and stimulate your mind, which is the issue many insomniacs face in the first place.
If you are hooked on caffeine as many of us are, then I find that the best way to get over a spell of insomnia is just to deprive yourself of it from the afternoon right on through to the nighttime. My brain seems to shut down when I don’t get a strong dose of caffeine throughout the day, and by controlling this I can make sure I’m tired when it’s time to sleep.
Set an Alarm
I am self-employed and can start my day whenever I feel like it. I don’t need to set alarms and if I wake late, it just means I’ll be working until late that night to catch up. But this causes all kind of issues with my sleeping patterns.
At my worst, I was staying awake for days on end and then sleeping for 15+ hours. It was erratic, to say the least. I began to deprive myself of sleep just so I could enjoy catching up on that sleep (and without needing to fight for it) the next night. It got so bad that at one point I was actually happy for a bad case of the flu as it left me weak and triggered a normal sleeping pattern—something that was alien to me.
I eventually fixed all of this just by setting an alarm and making sure I woke to it every morning. Some nights I would stay awake until 9am and then have to wake up for the alarm at 10am. But the next night you could guarantee I’d be playing catch-up and would be asleep by 11pm. After a week or two of having too little and then too much sleep, everything seemed to right itself and I fell into a somewhat normal pattern.