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If it’s any comfort, nearly all of us experience occasional insomnia at some point. Is losing a few hours of sleep now and then that serious? Here are tips to help put the problem in perspective and rediscover restful, restorative sleep. This advice is especially timely as the holidays draw near, with their characteristic stress, overeating, and schedule disruptions that all set the stage for insomnia.
Insomnia has been around a long time. In his 1948 bestseller, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie commented on sleeplessness, writing “It’s the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep.” That’s still true 70 years later: the more we chase after sleep, the more it eludes us! But instead of battling insomnia, why not work with it? The silence, peacefulness, and darkness can make the night hours an ideal time to tackle projects we keep putting off, such as writing, painting, reading, and the like. We can even turn occasional sleepless nights into special opportunities to indulge in creative expression. In fact, many great names—including Napoleon, Winston Churchill, and Virginia Woolf—endured prolonged insomnia.
Even minor changes in our daily habits can disrupt sleep. Jet lag, for instance, can affect us for nights, although we usually recover quickly. It’s also possible to overestimate how much sleep we need—amounts vary from one person to another, and change depending on age. Some people can’t get by without nine or even ten hours of sleep per night, while others are fine with four or five hours.
Many of us find that occasional insomnia is brought on by the hassles of daily life (job stress, family issues, changes in our surroundings or schedules, etc.). To counter it, we must relax, clear our minds, and let stress slip away. Numerous techniques have proved highly effective, such as yoga, progressive relaxation (the Jacobson method), and meditation. Find the one that works best for you, and use it regularly.
A lifestyle change may also be in order. Here are some basic principles:
- Getting regular exercise improves sleep quality. However, avoid engaging in highly stimulating activities for several hours before bedtime.
- Exposure to as much sunlight as possible enables you to reset your biological clock.
- Eat healthy—that includes having a light supper at least several hours before you turn in. Avoid stimulants like coffee, tea, chocolate, and, naturally, cigarettes. Don’t turn to alcohol thinking it will help you fall asleep: the quality of your sleep will actually be worse. Instead, try an infusion containing valerian, chamomile, and bee or lemon balm.
- If you’re tossing and turning, don’t stay in bed. After 20 minutes, get up and relax by reading or listening to music (don’t watch TV or surf the Internet). Don’t go back to bed till you start feeling sleepy. And don’t keep glancing at the clock!
Blue Cross health insurance can help you sleep better
Remember that a host of health professionals are available to help you deal with occasional insomnia, including acupuncturists, massage therapists, and, of course, psychologists. If you want to consult one of them, you should know that Blue Cross offers certain insurance products that will reimburse their services, in most cases without requiring a prescription. Find out more!