Insomnia: When Counting Sheep Doesn’t Work

Occasional periods of sleeplessness affect us all at some time or another, and it can be very frustrating to deal with. But what if you are constantly faced with this problem every night as you lie in bed? Or do you fall asleep only to wake up shortly and are unable to go back to sleep? Do you go many nights -- sometimes even weeks -- with little or no sleep? If so, you are facing a serious problem. How do you cope?


First you need to recognize what is causing your insomnia. Depression and stress play a huge role, as do physical pain, health problems, poor nutrition, certain foods, medication, and poor exercise or too much exercise close to bedtime.

Eating correctly can help. Some foods to avoid -- especially close to bedtime -- are sugar, tobacco, eggplant, cheese, wine, bacon, ham, sausage, tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, sauerkraut and chocolate. These foods produce stimulants in the brain, making it hard for you to fall asleep.

Some foods that may help are turkey, bananas, figs, dates, grapefruit, tuna, yogurt and whole-grain crackers. You should avoid napping during the day. Also avoid caffeine, exercise and any stressful activity before bedtime. Some people feel that taking a warm bath is soothing and helps them to wind down; or drinking a glass of warm milk.

These are, of course, only suggestions. If you are facing insomnia you should consult a physician, especially in the case of chronic insomnia (poor sleep that lasts three weeks or longer).

Signs that you should see a doctor right away include decreased work productivity, increased accidents, poor concentration, irritability, nervousness, fatigue and short- or long-term memory loss.

You should not take over-the-counter sleep aides without first talking with your doctor, because many people become addicted.

There is help for chronic insomnia. Your doctor will probably order a sleep study to find out what is causing the insomnia. Often it is due to apnea or loud snoring. Some people have night terrors that wake them up. It could also be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Once your doctor has figured out what is causing the insomnia, you can work toward a cure. Often this involves taking medication to help you sleep.

Always remember loss of sleep is not normal and can be a sign of a serious problem. Don't wait to consult your physician.

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