November 24, 2010 | by Kevin M. Norris
Elusive slumber

Lack of sleep is insipid and can affect everything you do throughout your day. Chronic insomnia can be fatiguing and can leave you exhausted, taking a toll on your energy, your mood and ability to function and think clearly.

Insomnia is the inability to get the sleep your body needs to wake up feeling rested, refreshed and wide-eyed. Since everyone needs different amounts of sleep, insomnia is defined by the quality of your sleep. While eight hours may seem like a healthy amount, it is only if you are sleeping well and wake up feeling rejuvenated.

While insomnia is the sleep complaint, it is not the sole issue. Insomnia is caused by a myriad of factors and symptoms and the roots of insomnia differ from person to person generally with underlying concerns causing the insomnia. The good news is that insomnia can commonly be cured through a series of strategies and habits.

Ironically, I started writing this column at 4 in the morning. I have been having sleep issues for some time and over the years I have applied countless sleep techniques to help me fall asleep and techniques to get me back to sleep if I wake up too early.

In researching this column, I was besieged by the extensive research on the myriad of causes and the variety of remedies. While some work for me and some have little effect, my quest for a good night’s sleep remains constant and I will continue on this journey.

Here is my list of what I have found successful coupled with what I have learned from others and an abridged version of the more regarded research from Mayo Clinic, Scientific American, WebMD and others.

Insomnia can be a sign of an undiagnosed medical or psychological condition. If insomnia persists for more than a few weeks, it’s best to see your doctor for a physical exam.  Determining the causes, particularly medically based, can also help you discover healthy sleep habits and get the treatment you need.

What causes insomnia? There are too many possibilities to count. Some of the most common and wide-spread are stress, anxiety, depression, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea and certain medications.

The list for insomnia remedies is extensive as well. What are some of the most successful insomnia remedies? I have narrowed this list to the more prevalent and widely regarded solutions.

Avoid exercise or vigorous activity at least two hours before going to bed.

Avoid heavy meals 90 minutes before bed, especially fat-laden foods.

Avoid alcohol in excess, which can cause interrupted sleep and dehydrate you. Also, avoid caffeine and other stimulants such as nicotine, at least six hours before bedtime.

Take a hot bath. My secret home remedy is 1 cup of kosher salt, one-fourth cup of olive oil, 10 chamomile or lavender mint tea bags and bath wash. The salt permeates your muscles, the olive oil moistens your skin and the chamomile, lavender and mint relaxes you. Light some candles and play soft music as well.

Maintain a regular sleep schedule including weekends to help set your body’s clock to keep your sleep patterns consistent. Avoid naps unless absolutely necessary. Naps should not be longer than 90 minutes.

Use your bed for sleeping and sex only. Watch TV and read in another room.

Eat some sleep-inducing foods such as a banana, turkey or peanut butter and drink herbal tea or warm milk.

Avoid stimulating activities and stressful situations before going to bed, such as working on the computer or preparing for a morning meeting.

Adopt a relaxing bedtime routine. Dim the lights and listen to calming, soothing music with some aroma sleep-inducing therapeutic oils like lavender, orange and rosemary.

If you wake up and cannot get back to sleep within a few minutes, get up and do something relaxing. Tossing and turning and trying to force yourself to sleep will be to no avail.

Helpguide.org has sleep tips and relaxation techniques as do a bounty of other websites.

I hope by developing healthy habits and sound strategies that you will be on your way to better sleep. I would love to hear from you with your insomnia remedies and suggestions. Please send me an e-mail with your most successful sleep remedies.

Sleep well.

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