Insomnia: Causes And Cures

Twenty five percent of adults and 50% of senior citizens have insomnia problems. Insomnia is also a problem that is prevalent among people with HIV/AIDS.

The purpose of sleep is to allow the body to repair and rejuvenate. Sleep also reduces fatigue and stress. Dreaming helps to clear the nervous system.

There are five distinct stages of sleep. Stages 1 & 2 are considered light sleeping which takes place the majority of the night. Stages 3 & 4 are deep sleeping or "delta sleep " and rest and restoration. Stage 5 is the dream state which generally involves rapid eye movement or REM.

Patterns of sleep generally look like this: light sleep - deep sleep - REM - light sleep - deep sleep - rest and restoration. The first period of light sleep lasts about 45 minutes.

Insomnia problems include: You can't get to sleep. You wake up in the middle of the night, and can't go back to sleep. And waking up too early, between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m., and you can't get back to sleep.

The 24 hour cycle (12 on, and 12 off) is called "Circadian Rhythms ". When it gets dark, the body clock stimulates the Pineal gland which produces melatonin. Bright light or sunshine shuts off melatonin production.

Causes of chronic insomnia associated with psychological problems can be deeply rooted in stress, anxiety and/or depression. Insomnia associated with medical problems can be caused by a variety of things including: iron deficiency anemia, breathing disorders, kidney dysfunction, diabetes, and in the case of HIV, can be associated with a variety of medication side effects. Insomnia can also be due to poor eating habits, caffeine, & lack of exercise.

Open The Sleep Gate

Reduce intake of caffeine. More than 300 milligrams (about 3 cups of coffee) a day can lead to addiction. Caffeine is also found in colas, chocolates, and some medications. It can take a long time to clear caffeine from the body and side effects of headaches in the morning and urinating at night are common.

Limit intake of alcohol. Alcohol can cause fractured sleep, therefore reducing the total amount and quality of your sleep time. Eliminate or reduce cigarette smoking, nicotine is a stimulant to the brain. Increase daytime exposure to the sun and avoid bright lights at night.

Changes In Eating

You may want to try eating things that raise your melatonin production. Suggested intake includes: spirulina seaweed, soy nuts, cottage cheese, chicken, pumpkin seeds, turkey, and dried watermelon seeds. Melatonin rich foods include: oats, sweet corn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas, and barley.

Some life-style changes can also help you to sleep better. For example cutting down your sleep time. Different people need varying amounts of sleep. If you only need 7 hours but are sleeping 9 hours, the 7 hour sleep spreads over 9 hours and becomes ineffective. You may try increasing daytime exposure to sunlight by getting out earlier. Often exercising can help or even spending time in meditation or prayer.

Often medications that are prescribed for sleep can disrupt or eliminate the sleep cycle as described. These include: Doral, Halcion, Restoril, Valium, and Xanax. Antihistamines can also cause sleep depravation.

Some vitamins and minerals such as B6, niacin amide, calcium, magnesium, or antioxidants may help. Other herbal remedies to consider are Valerian root, Skullcap, Passion flower, Wood betony, or California poppy.

Seema Agarwal is a licensed acupuncturist and volunteers her services at Women Alive.