Forget the dreams! Give me sleep, pure and simple, deep and restful. Gently lull me to Lala land. Let me lose contact with the outside world, filled with fear and anxiety. Let me enter the realm of dark forgetfulness and sleepless slumber. Our society is so laden with stress in every socioeconomic group that those troublesome sleepless nights have become a common occurrence for all. Insomnia knows no distinction between race, age, or gender. Though research has shown it affects more women than men, it is estimated that 30-50% of the general population suffers from insomnia. This has created the need for sleep clinics that can diagnose and treat sleep problems. As of today there are over 3000 sleep centers in the US as well as an equal number of sleep medicine specialists. I have yet to meet one, but eagerly welcome such an encounter.
Insomnia is not an illness, it is a symptom, and today's stressful lifestyle is perfectly suited for its expansion and proliferation. Surely mankind has suffered from a degree of insomnia throughout the ages. The reasons are plain enough -- sustenance, security, survival, pretty much the same factors behind today's insufferable epidemic. When a problem preys on our minds and decisions are hard, how often have we heard the advice to "sleep on it." This is not merely a figure of speech. Research revealed that quite likely the answer pops up the next day. We resolve our problems during sleep. Less than a century ago however, scientist knew little about sleep, but since the 1950s they have started to unlock the closet door that hides roughly 1/3rd of our lives. This was made possible by the invention electro-encephalograph in 1929 by the German scientist Hans Berger. The name means "electric head-writing." It describes quite aptly how the secret of sleep are revealed. Better known as the EEG, it traces brain activity by applying a number of pens and interpreting their powerful vibrations. EEGs have detected several well-defined stages of sleep, the deepest state begins as the brain slows down after a peaceful calm, which is followed by a sudden burst of activity known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. REM sleeps describes the darting of the eyeballs behind the closed eyelids, leading to REM sleep which is the tim e we spend dreaming. When the dream is bea utiful, what more can we ask for? However, we do not get we ask for, instead we get insomnia.
A host of different reasons can bring about a state of insomnia. Whether trivial or threatening, the result is wakefulness, which leaves us bleary-eyed and crippled for the rest of the day. Indigestion, or over excitement, the ticking of a clock or the snoring of a partner leads to, what scientists called transient or short-term insomnia. Once the reason is removed sleep happily returns to your bed. Then there is chronic insomnia, a more serious situation linked with underlying psychiatric or physiological conditions. The most chronic psychological problems are anxiety or stress, or even mental diseases such schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Insomnia my in fact be an indicator of depression. Physiological or medical cause spans the gamut from circadian rhythm disorders (disturbance of our biological clock) to nocturnal asthma, sleep apnea, brain tumours or strokes, Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.
Certain groups may be at high risk, like travelers, the elderly, young students, pregnant or menopausal women. That, I think, covers everybody. Now that we've learned the causes that affect us all, what are the remedies? How are all these sleep clinics helping their patients? The unexpected answers range from the ridiculous to the ludicrous. The doctor will try to identify the medical or psychological causes. Treatment is best tailored to each individual patient, which is usually a combination of medical or non-medical therapies. Medical therapy, which usually includes sedative drugs, is best left to your physician. Non-medical therapy we can handle. It starts with the heretofore unknown "sleep hygiene," guaranteed to improve the quality and quantity of sleep. Leading the list of sleep-help is surprisingly, not to oversleep. Oversleep? Lack of sleep leaves us fatigued and lethargic, so does too much sleep. Now here comes a word that pops up every time good health is mentioned -- exercise. Regular exercise, at least 20 minutes daily, only 4-5 hours before sleep. This does put you on a hard schedule. The rest is even worse. You are not to go to bed hungry, but you are not to eat too much before you sleep. Avoid caffeinated drinks, alcohol and or tobacco. Do not watch TV, read, eat, or worry in bed. What else is a bed for? A bed is strictly for sleeping, so say sleep experts. Oh, and do not go to sleep with your worries! Please resolve them before you go to sleep -- are you kidding? While well-meaning, sleep experts are asking for the impossible. The sleep hygiene itself is enough to lose sleep over.
In all this confusion, there is good news. New research reveals that we are not biologically programmed by nature for those sacred 8 hours by night. According to a study by Dr. Daniel Kripke, of the University of California in San Diego, who studied over one million adults, found those who slept 7 hours had the lowest death rates over a period of six years, while 8-hour sleepers have a greater risk of dying over the same period. Harvard medical school extended Kripke' study and found that seven hours have the fewest deaths over a 12-year follow up period, confirming Kripke's findings. People who sleep 8, 9, or 10 hours have a significantly increased risk of death. Another study found that the less students sleep before an examination, the higher their grades While too much sleep is bad for you, so is too little sleep, which leads to hypertension, diabetes and obesity, than other unspeakable modern epidemics.
Old home remedies work. Do not discard or forget them. The popular herbal medication, Valeriana, is known to have performed miracles for many insomniacs. We must make sure we get the right amount of sleep that our bodies need, no more, no less.
We embrace sleep's gentle caress, as it waltzes us into the heavenly realm of sweet dreams, while its absence flings us into the throes of the hellish state of insomnia. Scientists repeat the cause again and again, anxiety, anxiety, uncontrollable and unavoidable anxiety. What then are we to do? Armed with a little knowledge and a positive attitude why not embrace insomnia and deal with it as best we can, from day to day, night after night.
Blessings on him who invented sleep... the balance and weight that equalizes the shepherd and the king, the simpleton and the sage.
-- Don Quixote Cervantes (1547-1616)