Saturday, December 22, 2007

Insomnia Is Hell

Insomnia is hell. Have you ever gone 30 days without sleeping more than a few minutes straight? You dread going to bed more than waking up. You feel like the living dead. Trudging your way through the day, you wonder when it will end.

I am sure sleeping pills are a good cure for insomnia, and much insomnia is stress or anxiety-related. However, in between real insomnia and normal sleep, are shades of grey, including periods of very light sleep -- periods when, if you wake up, you stay up because you can't fall back asleep. Or, you toss and turn for hours before actually winding down and dozing off. For me, these periods usually result from high stress. When I wake up, my mind instantly turns to stressful, adrenaline-producing thoughts that I cannot suppress. The same type of thing happens when I hit the sack that night. Then the ultimate irony and death spiral sets in: I can't sleep because I'm stressed out about not being able to sleep and having to face another day of insomniac hell. The less I sleep, the less I sleep... While under normal cirumstances, the trash truck would wake me up and I'd drift back to sleep within a few minutes. However, when I'm in this cycle of semi-insomnia, I simply cannot fall back asleep. I am sure you know what I'm talking about.

In these times, one successful strategy is simply to eliminate the things that could keep or wake you up. Improved "sleep hygiene" can help without pills. One easy way of improving sleep hygiene is to create a better sleep environment -- one that is dark, quiet comfortable and cool.

In the New York Times blog, Curing Insomnia Without the Pills, the writer notes:

"For people with chronic insomnia, studies show that simple behavioral and psychological treatments work just as well, and sometimes better, than popular medications, according to a report in The Journal of Family Practice.

"The medical journal Sleep last year reported on five high-quality trials that showed cognitive behavioral therapy helped people suffering from insomnia fall asleep sooner and stay asleep longer. Another American Journal of Psychiatry analysis of 21 studies showed that behavioral treatment helped people fall asleep nearly nine minutes sooner than sleep drugs. In other measures, sleep therapy worked just as well as drugs, but without any side effects...

"So-called sleep hygiene is also part of sleep therapy. This includes regular exercise, adding light-proof blinds to your bedroom to keep it dark and making sure the bed and room temperatures are comfortable. Eat regular meals, don’t go to bed hungry and limit beverages, particularly alcohol and caffeinated drinks, around bedtime."

It's pretty obvious that most people really should get more sleep. Unforunately, many people simply cannot carve out the time. I include myself in that boat. However, an alternative is to get better sleep.

If you're going to be in bed for seven hours, why not do everything you can to make the most of it -- to make sure you're not tossing and turning until the wee hours because of your night-owl neighbor, or being woken up early by the sun or the morning traffic? If you can't commit to the generally recommended eight hours of sleep, then make the most of whatever time you can commit.

If you spend $15 on a sleep mask and gain an extra half hour of sleep each day, isn't it worth it -- by a long shot? How about ear plugs for <$10 for another half hour extension? I'd almost pay $25 for an extra hour of sleep for one night, let alone a month. If someone said, "Give me $25, and I'll give you an extra hour of sleep for a month", wouldn't you pay it? Every night for over 10 years I have been using ear plugs and a sleep mask. On top of that, I use blackout blinds and a white noise machine (or sound conditioner). I basically employ two layers of defense against both noise and light. Over a period of 10 years that's been roughly $345, or $34.50/year, or roughly $3/month, or $.10/day. A dime a day for an extra hour of sleep. Not bad, eh? Here's the math:
  • Sleep Mask: $18 * 1 every 2 years = $90 for 10 years
  • Ear Plugs: $14/year for ear plugs * 10 years = $140 for 10 years
  • Blackout Blinds: $45 for all 10 years
  • Sound Conditioner: $70 for all 10 years

I'll give anyone a dime for an hour of sleep, I don't know about you. Visit my wonderful store to get in on the deal:

-- Paul

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