A month or so ago, TGB reader Salinda left this comment:
”Over the past year, sleep has become very elusive, and despite good advice from herbalists and docs, meditation, lots of exercise, no screens before bed, ETC, the situation persists.
“For now a coping strategy is to take a nap each day, whenever possible. Not only is my capability to function impaired by the tiredness, it's also more difficult to keep a positive attitude. Would love to hear how others deal with this.”
Remember what sleep was like when we were teenagers? In 1957 when I was 16 years old, I woke one morning with my bed two feet from the wall and no memory of how that could have happened without my noticing, even while asleep. Soon, radio news informed me that there had been an earthquake during the night.
There is no way I could sleep through that nowadays and for more than a decade nothing the so-called “experts” recommend to treat insomnia had helped me.
People don't take insomnia seriously enough. Even though masters-of-the-universe types and tech workers have for many years made it a point of pride to brag that they work 16, 18 and more hours a day, regular lack of sleep can have important consequences and it affects more people than I thought.
According to the National Institutes of Health, it is common problem affecting nearly 50 percent of people 60 and older and about 30 percent of younger adults resulting in significant impairment.
Lack of sleep causes difficulty with concentration, memory, reasoning, problem solving, not to mention attention lapses and slowed reacton time.
”The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),” reports Medscape, “estimates that at least 100,000 crashes and 1500 deaths annually are attributable to sleepiness/fatigue.”
With so many people affected, you would think there are remedies, but there are not many that actually work well.
Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. How many jokes have you heard over the years about old men getting up half a dozen times a night to use the bathroom? I'm living proof that it's a problem not only for men and until recently, I could never get back to sleep afterwards.
Treatments fall mainly into categories of “natural,” of over-the-counter and prescription drugs, and of alternative or life-style changes. Before you try anything, be sure to find out if your insomnia is a result of an underlying disease or condition, or a side effect of medications. If not, here is a short overview.
Acupuncture, guided imagery, yoga, hypnosis, biofeedback, aromatherapy, relaxation, meditation and massage fall into this category. There are herbs like melatonin and valerian that work for some people.
Exercise too, including tai chi, are useful although it needs to be no later than three or four hours before bedtime.
OVER-THE-COUNTER SLEEP REMEDIES
The names of these are probably familiar to you: Nytol, Sominex, Tylenol PM, etc. They contain antihistamines which induce drowsiness and they lose effectiveness over fairly short periods of time.
PRESCRIPTION SLEEP REMEDIES
Ativan, Xanax, Valium, Restoril and others are benzodiazepines which are habit-forming, contribute to falling and can be difficult to stop using. Old people's bodies metabolize drugs of all kinds differently from younger adults and because drugs are almost never tested on people older than 65, it is hard to know what is safe.
There is a comprehensive list of safety and efficacy of sleep medications in older adults at this website.
These suggestions for a good night's sleep may seem obvious but many studies have shown that they work as well of and, often, better than drugs.
• Keep a regular sleep schedule
• Avoid heavy meals, smoking, alcohol, or caffeine near bedtime
• Avoid naps during the day
• Keep your sleep surroundings as dark as possible
• Don't watch TV in bed (I record late-night shows for later viewing)
• Don't use other tech toys in bed – no phone, tablet, etc.
• A few experts suggest no reading in bed either
• Make sure you have a comfortable bed in a room not too hot and not too cold
That last suggestion brings me to a historic practice that was similar: First Sleep/Second Sleep which I wrote about here in 2012. I first heard about it in a fascinating book, At Day's Close – Night in Times Past by A. Roger Ekirch who posits that from about 1500 to 1850, before the advent of artificial light, people may have commonly slept in two shifts – so commonly that hardly anyone thought to mention it.
”...fragments in several languages...,” writes Ekirch, “give clues to the essential features of this puzzling pattern of repose.
“Both phases of sleep lasted roughly the same length of time, with individuals waking sometime after midnight before returning to rest...Men and women referred to both intervals as if the prospect of awakening in the middle of the night was common knowledge that required no elaboration...”
“After midnight, pre-industrial households usually began to stir. Many of those who left their beds merely needed to urinate...
“Some persons, however, after arising, took the opportunity to smoke tobacco, check the time, or tend a fire. Thomas Jubb, an impoverished Leeds clothier, rising around midnight, 'went into Cow Lane & hearing ye clock strike twelve' returned 'home & went to bed again.'”
I've tried this in the past and it worked for me to a degree except that too often, I stayed up several hours then slept in too late in the morning than I felt comfortable with.
For the past several months, I've been using a tincture of cannabis to help me sleep and now, after at least a decade of not sleeping more than three or four hours a night, it feels like a miracle to me.
I use a tincture of THC (the non-high-producing CBD works for some people) and I'm easily getting seven or eight hours of sleep a night. Plus, when I get up to use the bathroom, I can go right back to sleep when I return to bed.
I could give you a long list of online websites to consult but it's just as easy for you to search “insomnia remedies” or “insomnia treatment”. There is an enormous amount of information and with minor discrepancies, most agree with one another.
Meanwhile, let's help out Salinda. What is your experience with insomnia? What have you tried that did not work and what have you used that does?
(Remember: no medical advice, no recommendations of medications, no links to other websites.)