Seasonal insomnia typically strikes at about this time of year. As the days get shorter, we’re exposed to shorter periods of sunlight, which can alter circadian rhythms and interfere with sleep.
A related problem has to do with our need for vitamin D, which may not be met in low sunlight conditions. Recent publications explore the effects of low levels of vitamin D on sleep, making supplements a good option in the cold weather.
Occasionally I get emails from people with take-charge, type A personalities wondering what to do about insomnia. Full of self-reliance, they’ve often scoured the internet for remedies—and tried every one—or amassed a mountain of books about sleep—and read them all—to little avail. Can I suggest anything that might help?
Here is Geri’s story (abbreviated to save space) and my response.
I love warm weather and long summer days. Birds singing, trees leafed out, garden thriving. Me, outside in shorts and a tee-shirt, able to appreciate the natural beauty till almost 10 p.m. What’s not to like?
Insomnia, in a word. On long, hot days I’m just not sleepy at my usual bedtime. I’m up later and later till—oops—I’m in the insomnia trap again.
You’d think I’d know by now: heat and light may boost my spirits but, in too big a dose, they’re a bane to sleep. So now it’s time to knuckle down and observe the rules for better sleep in the summer. Here they are:
Might Ayurvedic medicine—traditional medicine practiced in India for 3,000 years—offer an effective treatment for insomnia?
If you’re looking for an alternative treatment vetted by scientists in controlled clinical trials, the answer is no. But an Indian herb called ashwagandha is receiving attention as a substance that might help people with several health conditions, including chronic stress, anxiety, and memory loss. It’s also being studied as a possible sleep aid. Here’s more about it.
My husband and I are going on a road trip this summer and we won’t be staying at the Marriott. Not just because 4-star hotels are too expensive. Where we’re headed, we’ll be lucky to find a Super 8. More likely we’ll end up in budget motels with names like Willow the Wisp and All Tucked Inn.
Being the finicky sleeper that I am, I carry the potential for insomniac nights wherever I go. At least a dozen possible hazards can throw my sleep off track. Here’s what I do to boost my chances of getting better sleep on the road.
I’m not going to plug the high protein diet as the surest path to weight loss (although some say it is). But I do want to pass on the news that going on a high protein diet may be a path to better sleep, especially in people who are overweight or obese.
This is not just the conclusion of single study, which may or may not hold up over time. Rather, a protein–sleep connection has been documented in a handful of recent studies. If you’ve got insomnia and can afford to lose a few pounds, consider these results.
Occasionally I hear from an insomnia sufferer who can tell me precisely the times she woke up the previous night. “Went to sleep at 11:30, up again at 12:55. Lay awake for an hour. Got back to sleep but woke up again to go to the bathroom at 2:40. Woke up again at 4:40 and stayed awake until the alarm rang at 6. What should I do?”
This person—let’s call her Judith—doesn’t sound like she’s getting much sleep: little more than 4 hours if you tally up the numbers. Few of us could thrive on a steady diet of 4-hour nights, and Judith is no exception. She works full time and cares for her family in the evening. When the alarm rings, she’s got to be up and on her toes all day until she crashes at 10 p.m. No wonder she has a lot of anxiety about sleep and is desperate for more of it.
I’ve blogged about various ways to improve sleep, but one small change of habit I’ve mentioned deserves more attention.
My husband is a champion sleeper. He’s also prodigious when it comes to remembering his dreams. Often his dreams are unpleasant: He’s running to catch a plane and realizes he doesn’t have his bag, or he’s shouting at a class full of students. By the time he gets to the dessert table at a party, all the chocolate (i.e. real) desserts are gone.
Still, I envy his amazing powers of recall. I’d love to have half as much access to what goes on in my head at night.
A new study in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology sheds light on why some people tend to remember dreams and others don’t. Could it explain why I remember fewer dreams now than ever before?