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Chronic insomnia is more common than you might think: causes and solutions

Posted Sep 22 2009 10:08pm
Modern life forces so many of us to live life in the fast lane, mentally and physically. Almost every one of us has more on our plate than can be accomplished in a 24-hour day. As a result, we try to offset the lack of available time with less relaxation, less sleep and very little exercise. The rationale is usually that, if we get everything on our to-do list accomplished, we'll have less worry, less stress, be more 'successful' and not have to feel guilty over tasks uncompleted. Can you relate to this scenario? Do you also suffer from chronic insomnia?

The unfortunate fact is that this 'always running' strategy has a boomerang effect and is a good recipe for chronic insomnia. First, we'll take a look at some of the subsets of patterns that foster chronic insomnia and suggest a variety of solutions that may help you get out of this vicious circle.

The 'busy mind' syndrome is characterized by worry and anxiety over situations or problems that won't let your mind stop rehashing them. You may be sitting in bed watching a movie, but your mind keeps drifting, focusing on work, financial problems, issues with your kids or just thinking about what's on your schedule for tomorrow. When you finally lie down and try to go to sleep, you find it impossible. Eventually, you may dose off into a restless sleep, only to waken a few hours later, unaware of what it was that woke you up. Again, it may be hours before you can again fall asleep. When the alarm goes off, you wake up groggy and not feeling rested, but fatigued.

Another culprit in the chronic insomnia syndrome is eating too much food late at night. People who have problems sleeping should eat a light meal in the evening. Irregular sleeping patterns can also contribute to insomnia. If you have difficulty sleeping, try to establish a regular 'bedtime', just as most parents impose on their kids. This is one method of retraining your body to 'expect' sleep at a particular hour. Lack of exercise may also be hindering your efforts to get to sleep. Try taking a brisk walk after dinner as your regular habit. This can help expend nervous energy and make your body amenable to the idea of sleep.

People who work night shifts often have trouble sleeping during daylight hours. Natural light triggers your natural circadian rhythms, which tell you it's time to be awake. Using a sleep mask and window treatments that effectively block natural light can help relieve chronic insomnia.

Remember when Mom or Grandma would fix you a 'nice cup of hot chocolate' before bedtime? This traditional comfort beverage has a basis in science. It's well known that calcium helps relax muscles and nerves, signaling your body that it's time to relax – and fall asleep.

Vitamin D helps regulate your circadian rhythms. If your typical day doesn't involve much exposure to sunlight, you may suffer a deficiency of vitamin D which contributes to your chronic insomnia. Ask your doctor to test your vitamin D levels. You may need a supplement. Vitamin D3 is the form which your body interprets as natural sunlight.

Biofeedback therapy is another effective approach to alleviating insomnia. Biofeedback techniques employ strategies that teach your body to respond to certain stimuli in a particular way. For example, if you play a tape of ocean sounds, the sounds tend to induce a state of relaxation. When used repetitively, your body begins to respond automatically to the sounds you hear.

There's no question that regular exercise helps you get to sleep. However, in the here and now, try this trick. When you awaken at 2 am, tossing and turning isn't going to help much and only serves to increase your frustration. Instead of tossing and turning in a futile effort to get back to sleep, get up and clean the tub. Haul the vacuum out of the closet and get to work. Clean the kitchen counters or tackle the oven. Put some elbow grease into these boring tasks. You may quickly be delighted to get back in bed and get some sleep!

Suffering from chronic insomnia doesn't have to drive you crazy! Now, get some sleep!
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