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:: A Life without Sleeping Pills – Ending the Cycle of Insomnia
May 21, 2012 09:18 am

Another sleepless night. We’ve all been there at one point or another watching the clock roll past midnight, one a.m., two a.m., and perhaps even seeing dawn before finally drifting off.

Insomnia typically strikes when we’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious about events in our lives, but for nearly 10 to 15% of the American population bouts of insomnia can last more than six agonizing weeks. It's no wonder we have a hard time falling asleep, with the constant worry of issues such as the economy, or juggling the responsibilities of our daily lives as well as the inundation and constant stimulation of our minds from television and the general noise of the outside world. Our hectic schedules cause an array of stress responses in our bodies; such as elevated alertness, increased heartbeat, and breathing rates, all of which cause a loss of sleep. 

Traditional medicine offers the sleeping pill as a solution. It’s astounding to think that nearly 42 million sleeping pill prescriptions were handed out last year alone. While effective in the short term, these pills do not treat the root causes of insomnia and instead only temporarily mask symptoms. The end result?  Those who take sleeping pills build up a tolerance and dependence over time.  They need more pills in order to get much needed sleep, and once they stop taking pills will typically suffer from rebound insomnia along with drug withdrawal symptoms such as nausea and headaches. Furthermore, sleeping pills are not without side effects - they cause a general lack of clarity, drowsiness the day after, confusion, and an increase in forgetfulness.

Resting easy can be as simple as making some adjustments to our daily lives and incorporating some restful periods into our ever-busy schedules. Toning down the pace of our life, at least long enough to allow our bodies to feel tired and drift off to sleep, is the key to curing insomnia.

Early to Bed - From a scientific standpoint, our body's Circadian rhythms are very definite about when it's bedtime and time to get up.  Operating outside of these normal hours will cause problems such as fatigue, malaise, and sleepless nights.  We are naturally “set” to awaken each morning around 5:00 a.m. (with the rising of the sun), and so in pushing the envelope to watch the late show or get that last chore completed before going to bed, we're disturbing the natural rhythm. Most experts agree lights out should be around 10:00 p.m. in order to ensure proper rest and wakeful periods.

Ritual and Routine - Just as our children respond well to a bedtime ritual such as bath time followed by story and lights out, so too do adults. The reasons for this are many. First and foremost, having a nightly routine will train your body to feel sleepy when it's supposed to. Secondly, the process of getting ready for bed in the same manner each night will serve to distance bed time from your hectic day. The routine will be calming by nature, and with the addition of sitting quietly with a warm cup of herbal tea, or having a long, quiet bath to soothe frazzled nerves, your body will unwind and be ready for sleep.

Write and Read - Quite often sleepless nights are caused by the thoughts and worries that swim around in your head that you simply cannot let go of. As you lay in total darkness, feeling exhausted but unable to stop thinking about a problem or replaying the day, it becomes increasingly more difficult to drift off. To that end, writing in a journal every evening will help purge your mind of worrisome thoughts and allow your mind to relax.  Reading also helps to quiet the mind by giving it focus and allowing your imagination to become engrossed in your reading. This will help unify your thoughts and at the same time naturally release any worries.

Teas and Herbal Supplements – The simple of act of drinking warm tea has a calming and soothing effect for many people. In addition, there are many herbal teas that have sedative properties. Lavender, valerian, and chamomile are especially recommended for their calming and sleep-inducing nature, as is catnip and lemon balm. Herbal teas such as those made with skullcap and passionflower help dispel anxieties, and St. John’s Wort is said to promote deep sleep. Drinking a warm beverage, such as these herbal teas can become part of your bedtime ritual, as well as offering these sedative qualities. Ordinarily, they do not cause the negative side effects of sleeping pills, nor do they create the same level of dependency or tolerance.

Exercise Regularly - Regular exercise of any sort during the day improves the quality of sleep by relaxing muscles and inducing a natural feeling of drowsiness. Yoga is an excellent choice to help with insomnia because performing the correct poses, breathing techniques and relaxation practices actually prepares the body for sleep. If your insomnia is stress-related, yoga provides physical and mental relaxation. Hatha Yoga poses can be divided between those that give energy and those that relax. Soothing poses influence the nervous system so that it responds with calm. Yoga relaxation incorporates breathing, visualization, and slow, deep stretching movements.

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