You know the drill. It’s well past midnight and you’re awake, staring at the ceiling. Insomnia strikes most of us at one time or another. It can be tempting to reach for a sleep aid after enduring a few sleepless nights.
Before you reach for a pill, consider these facts about insomnia.
- Humans aren’t the only ones to suffer from insomnia: Believe it or not, insomnia can affect bugs and pets. Researchers at The Washington University of Medicine in St. Louis bred insomniac flies and found their behaviors resembled those of a human suffering from insomnia in several ways: They lost their balance more often, got fatter and were slower learners. Not only that, insomnia is a common problem for dogs. The most common reason dogs experience insomnia is the inability to relax.
- Social jet lag could be a factor: According to a professor at the University of Munich’s Institute of Medical Psychology, social jet lag is the “chronic clash of what our bodies need (more sleep) and what our lives demand (being on time).” While it might not be possible to sleep on your own schedule, you can minimize the effects of social jet lag by resisting the urge to sleep in on the weekends or vacation.
- There are different types of insomnia: Insomnia usually appears in two forms: acute and chronic. Acute insomnia is brief and lasts only a few days. Its causes are usually related to a stressful event, like an exam, and it usually passes without treatment. Chronic insomnia, however, is disrupted sleep that occurs at least three days a week for three months. It can have several causes, including shift work or an underlying physical or mental condition.
While it can be tempting to try a sleeping pill while you’re in the midst of sleeplessness, a recent study from the JAMA Internal Medicine journal suggests a medication-free approach may be better. According to researchers, cognitive behavioral therapy in combination with good sleep hygiene and relaxation techniques can help cure insomnia.
If you find yourself tossing and turning, get out of bed and try a relaxing activity like reading a book, taking a bath or listening to soothing music. Once you feel drowsy, go back to bed. If you’re watching the minutes tick by, move any clocks in your bedroom out of your view.
Or you could do some deep breathing, which involves inhaling and exhaling deeply using the belly and ribcage. Try closing your eyes and taking deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Making changes in your sleep routine — such as going to bed at a consistent time — creating a relaxing bedtime environment and reducing physical and mental stress can all help you overcome occasional sleeplessness. If you find your insomnia lasting longer than you think it should, talk with your doctor. For more tips on how to get a better night’s sleep, download our free guide.