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Insomnia: how to get a good night’s sleep

How much sleep is enough?
How much sleep is enough?

The answer varies from person to person. Some people need as little as four hours of sleep, while others aren’t themselves unless they get a full 10 hours.

Sleep requirements also vary with age. A newborn may nod off seven or eight times in a 24-hour period, sleeping as many as 18 hours. As the baby grows, sleep habits become more organized, eventually evolving into the adult pattern of a full night’s sleep with no daytime nap. As they age, adults often return to daytime naps, sleeping less at night.

Most of us spend a third of our lives asleep. While that may seem like a colossal waste of time, if deprived of sleep we feel less alert, irritable and easily fatigued. In time, our jobs and health may suffer. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Insomnia—the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep—has many causes. An upsetting event or the anticipation of a stressful day can cause us to toss and turn. Sometimes caffeine or alcohol is the culprit. For some people, one cup of coffee is one too many. And while drinking alcohol may put you to sleep, it prevents you from experiencing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the most restful slumber of all. Erratic hours, drug abuse and lack of exercise can also contribute to sleeplessness.

Some proven home remedies

Try these alternatives to counting sheep:

  • Go to bed and wake up at routine times.
  • Don’t take daytime naps.
  • Exercise daily—but not before bedtime.
  • Eliminate environmental stimulants, like too much noise or light.
  • Reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol.
  • Take a warm bath before bedtime.

When to see your doctor

If those home remedies don’t work, your doctor can determine whether your insomnia is caused by a medical condition, such as sleep apnea (a disorder in which breathing is interrupted during sleep) or Cushing’s syndrome (a hormonal imbalance that can lead to heart attacks and fractures of the spine). Depression, manic-depression and schizophrenia can also disrupt a normal sleep cycle. Fortunately, newer medications are able to provide restful slumber with minimal side effects.

Like a thief in the night, insomnia robs you of something precious: the energy you need to function well physically, intellectually and socially. So if you’re not getting the rest you need, see your doctor for a referral.

Some proven home remedies

When to see your doctor