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April 20, 2018  |  Login
 
Insomnia
 
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

Insomnia is our nation's silent health crisis. Almost half of all adults report having difficulty sleeping, but less than 10 percent discuss the issue with their doctor. Almost everyone has suffered from temporary insomnia due to stress, overeating, or consuming stimulants before bed and knows how draining and exhausting sleep loss can be. But people who have chronic insomnia-a consistent inability to go to sleep or to stay asleep through the night-are at risk for far more than fatigue. Sleep deficiency suppresses the immune system and the libido, decreases productivity, and can lead to other disorders like depression, chronic fatigue, heart disease, and headaches.

Before the use of electric lighting, the average American got nine hours of sleep a night. Now the average is less than seven hours and still going down, as the distractions of twenty-four hour shopping and entertainment becomes more widespread. How much sleep is enough? It has become fashionable to proclaim a need for very little sleep. However, studies involving mental function show that most adults do best with eight hours; some may need as many as nine or even ten. Children and teens need more sleep than adults do, and older people often find that they simply sleep less than they used to. If you nod off to sleep very quickly-within five minutes of putting your head on the pillow-or if you feel an urge to nap during the day, you probably need more sleep than you're getting.

Stress and anxiety are the most common causes of insomnia, but physiological factors often play a significant role as well. Stimulants, heavy metals, chronic pain, and breathing problems can keep you from sleeping, as can many medications and disorders.

Sleep apnea affects 5 percent of adults, but most of them will never be diagnosed. During this condition, a person repeatedly stops breathing during the night and wakes up to catch his or her breath. The two consequences of this are a significant drop in the blood's oxygen and severe sleep deprivation. Be suspicious of this condition if you snore, have daytime sleepiness, have high blood pressure, or are overweight. This condition is best identified during a sleep study that your doctor can order.

The recommendations in this section-especially the dietary ones-may help to treat sleep apnea. Weight loss can be an important component, as can avoiding sleeping on your back. One standard treatment is a C-pap machine, which involves a mask that is kept over your face while you sleep. It keeps constant pressure in the airway so that it does not collapse. Orthodontic devices that keep the lower jaw and the tongue forward are sometimes useful. In rare cases, extremely large tonsils or abnormalities in the throat structure may need to be surgically corrected.

Restless leg syndrome is a disorder characterized by unusual or painful sensations in the legs, accompanied by an irresistible urge to move the legs. It's often brought on by rest and occurs most often in the evening. It can produce difficulty falling asleep. Many studies have shown that restless leg sufferers have low or low-normal iron levels. Iron supplementation has helped many people, but three months of treatment is usually needed before improvement is noted.

Hormone imbalance can be a root cause of insomnia.  ....read more

 
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