In my mind, there are basically three different kinds of sleep problems. And they come with three different sets of solutions.
What If There’s No Time For Sleep?
The first problem is scheduling. For whatever reason, many people find that they can’t find the time to sleep. Pretty shortsighted I think. Lack of sleep is tied to all kinds of problems – lack of focus, low energy, car accidents. This sleep problem is also the easiest to solve.
Take out your calendar/diary/smartphone, and block off eight hours a day to sleep. Make that time precious, because it is. The only thing that should prevent you from moving that time is a true emergency – and typing that last email or reading one more chapter are hardly emergencies. And notice I said moving that time, not shortening it. If you have to go to bed later or get up earlier one day, find the time to backfill that rest sometime within the day.
Admit to yourself that you have a scheduling problem – and fix it!
Could Insomnia Be Something Else?
Somewhere around eighty percent of all insomnias are called Secondary or Co-Morbid.This means is that there is another source of the sleeplessness. It might take a lot of experimentation, and maybe some help from your doctor, but you need to figure out what could be causing the insomnia.
Common secondary sources are chronic pain, Sleep Apnea, restless leg syndrome, a neuropathy, excess caffeine and hundreds of others. Go through all of the potential contributors in your life and see if there’s one there.
This Didn’t Work – So Now What?
OK – you’ve created enough room in your schedule for sleep, and there are no known contributors to your insomnia. Now what do you do?
Generally, if you can exclude these first two, and you still have a problem initiating or maintaining sleep, you have Primary Insomnia.
Here again, we can generally divide things up into two camps.
First, we can consume something to help us sleep. A tea (Valerian Tea comes to mind), or a supplement (Calcium, anyone), an off-the-shelf drug or a prescribed one.
The problem with all of these is that there are unintended side effects. With things like tea, the side effects could be quite mild (or practically non-existent).
For others, they might be long-term damaging.
When we get into the off-the-shelf and prescribed drugs, the risks go up. Often there’s a next day drowsiness (I like to call it a hangover) with these drugs. With the popular ones like Ambien and Ativan, there are dependency issues on top of their scary side effects (like sleep driving and thoughts of suicide).
Overall, if you take anything to help you sleep, it is nothing more than a bandaid on a wound. A wound that won’t heal. As soon as the bandaid comes off (you stop taking the substance) the insomnia returns.
So What’s The Second Choice?
The only long term effective method for curing your insomnia is to retrain your brain the way it manages sleep. Most commonly, this is called Cognitive Behavior Trainingor CBT. And the most basic CBT you can do is Basic Sleep Hygiene.
The problem with CBT is that it isn’t a quick fix.
It may take months to see real results. But that’s the thing – the results are real. And sustainable for the rest of your life.