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Are you among those who count sheep until the wee hours of the morning, trying unsuccessfully to drift off to sleep? You’re not alone. Insomnia affects about 30 percent of the general population and almost half of adults over age 60. Fortunately, there are a number of natural cures for insomnia.
Chronic insomnia can last for months—or years for some people. Causes can include underlying medical conditions and psychological issues as well as practices and habits of daily living. Insomnia symptoms include difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, waking up too early, and daytime consequences (feeling unrested, for example).
Not getting enough sleep can affect every aspect of your life. It can disrupt relationships by making you irritable and anxious and thus less likely to be social. It also puts you at risk for falls and injuries. And, of course, the drowsiness that results from lack of sleep can make driving dangerous.
Cures for Insomnia: How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help
Ruminating and runaway thoughts are known to ruin sleep; one approach that helps in many cases is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). While CBT-I is not a quick fix, it can be a long-term solution that doesn’t involve medications.
One study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that CBT-I significantly reduced menopause-related insomnia. It also found that phone conversations with a “sleep coach” can improve sleep quality, as can the practice of keeping a diary. Women were given specific sleep/wake schedules and were taught to limit time spent in bed at night, which ultimately helped them fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep.
Among the strategies called for by CBT-I are the following three:
1. Stop clock-watching. People with insomnia can become chronic clock-watchers, assessing how long they’ve been trying to fall asleep, how many more hours they have before morning. Chronic clock watching leads to obsessive thinking. Turning the clock away from your bed or putting it out of site and out of reach are two ways to reduce the temptation to check the time.
2. Sleep less. It may seem illogical to suggest that you sleep less, but sleep reduction therapy is based on the idea that some people may actually spend too much time in bed. Taking too many naps or staying in bed for too many hours may actually disrupt normal sleep patterns. For example, if you barely get six hours during the night and then take a nap in early evening, the recommended therapy might be to go to bed at 1 a.m. and wake up at 7 a.m. During the next several weeks, you gradually go to bed a little earlier, eventually forgoing the evening nap. This approach can help reset your sleep/wake schedule.
3. Control your environment. The bedroom should be designated for sleep and sex—not working, reading, watching TV, eating, or surfing the internet. In addition, a cool, dark room that is quiet can help you sleep better. Avoid alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime. And although daily exercise is helpful, give yourself several hours between exercise and sleep time.
Why You Can’t Sleep
From hormonal changes to stress to medications, the reasons for sleeplessness are many. For example, pain may be disrupting sleep, in which case reducing pain through medication, physical therapy, massage, or heat/ice treatments might be appropriate choices.
Menopause causes sleep problems for many women; in some cases, hormone therapy can provide relief. Such medications as antidepressants, decongestants, and drugs for high blood pressure or asthma may rob you of the sleep you need. If you suspect medications are the problem, talk with your doctor. Solutions may include getting a different prescription or taking the one you have at a different time of day.
For further reading on insomnia and related issues, see the following University Health News reports: