It’s not always easy to find help for insomnia. Several people I interviewed for “The Savvy Insomniac” reported that their primary care doctors didn’t seem to take the complaint seriously or prescribed treatments that didn’t work.
I thought the situation must have changed since persistent insomnia is now known to be associated with health problems down the line. But a recent report on the Veterans Affairs (VA) health system shows that insomnia is still overlooked and undertreated by many primary care providers.
Here’s what you may find—and what you deserve—when you talk to your doctor about sleep.
Observing the rules of good sleep hygiene may not work as a standalone treatment for insomnia. But now that I’ve learned to manage my insomnia, I follow most of the rules because they help me maintain sounder, more regular sleep.
Some are especially helpful in preventing backsliding. They may help you, too.
We often hear that Americans are not getting enough sleep. Electric lights (and now screens) are usually cited as the culprits, and Thomas Edison gets blamed for saying we should all sleep less. But the Catholic saints had the same opinion. The shorter their nights were, the more time they could devote to prayer and charitable work.
I just finished reading Father Aloysius Roche’s Bedside Book of Saints, and it’s clear to me that the saints would take issue with several ideas promoted by sleep experts today, including advice for insomnia sufferers looking for a better night’s sleep.
If you have insomnia, you’ve probably heard it’s best to avoid naps. Maybe you heard it from your doctor in a conversation about the rules of “good sleep hygiene,” or maybe you read it in a magazine. Is the advice to refrain from napping really sound advice and, if so, do you have to swear off napping completely to get a better night’s rest?
There are no one-size-fits-all answers to these questions, say researchers who recently reviewed the evidence behind the recommendation to avoid napping and other sleep-related do’s and don’ts. It depends on your age and situation.
I’ve had some excellent medical care over the years, but when it comes providing help for insomnia, many doctors are out to lunch. They grab hold of a single idea about insomnia—it’s due to poor sleep hygiene, it’s due to stress, or it’s due to psychic damage that needs to be sorted out—and treat insomniacs as if we’re all alike.
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?