I came of age when drinking caffeinated beverages was frowned on for people like me. Sleep experts exhorted people with insomnia to “stay away” from caffeine; a story in Working Woman stated that “the stimulant effect of coffee may last as long as 20 hours.”
Warnings like these made me feel guilty about indulging my java jones. Were my two cups of coffee, one at wake-up time and the other later in the morning, keeping me awake at night?
Most insomniacs I’ve met dismiss melatonin supplements as useless, and with good reason. If you follow directions and take the melatonin an hour before bedtime, it’s little more than a sugar pill.
But taking a melatonin supplement several hours before bedtime may give you better results.
Sleep scientists are still trying to figure out why 10 to 15 percent of us have trouble sleeping at night. Normal sleepers are in the majority; people with insomnia are the deviants.
But is insomnia really so odd in view of all the crimes and disasters that have occurred at night?
The story on alcohol and sleep is complicated. About 10 to 14 percent of adults in the United States use alcohol as a sleep aid. While it generally degrades the quality of sleep, the use of alcohol does not predict the development of persistent insomnia, say the authors of a large longitudinal study published in January 2012 in the journal Sleep. But—and here’s the troubling part—twice as many insomniacs become problem drinkers as people who sleep well.
Here is one woman’s story of how alcohol led to trouble sleeping and insomnia.
Even people with insomnia sleep well from time to time. “I know on a sunny day after I’ve had a good night, I’m almost high,” Mary, a writer and former teacher, told me as we sat talking over cups of tea.
The day is wonderful after a good night’s sleep. But what about mornings after really bad nights?
The use of sleeping pills is on the rise, with 8 percent of Americans now using them at least a few nights a week. By some folks’ lights this is not a good thing. Doctors are too quick on the draw with the prescription pad, is a complaint I often hear.
But I’ve had more experience with doctors of the opposite persuasion, who declare they don’t do sleeping pills at all.