A flurry of articles recently announced the discovery of seven new risk genes for insomnia. In an era when new genes are being identified for everything from infertility to schizophrenia, you might regard this discovery as simply the soup du jour.
Not me. Growing up when trouble sleeping was attributed to psychological factors, coffee, and alcohol, I was elated by this news. We stand to gain so much from knowing the genetic underpinnings of insomnia.
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:
These days people are worried about jobs, health care, the environment, the possibility of worldwide war. Uncertainty about the future, and fear of negative outcomes, may rob even reliable sleepers of sleep from time to time.
But for many insomnia sufferers, worry and anxiety about sleep itself—“It’s two o’clock and I haven’t slept a wink!”; “If I don’t get to sleep now I’ll get sick!”—is an equally powerful enemy of sleep.
Here’s more about worry and insomnia and how to keep them from spoiling the night.
A reader named Gunjan recently asked a question about trouble sleeping due to temperature changes at night. Here it is, lightly edited:
“It seems my body is very sensitive to temperature while I am sleeping. Many times it has happened that I went to bed at an optimal temperature. But as soon as my body sleeps, I wake up feeling too cold. Then I go to bed after switching off the fan or covering myself with the bed sheet but then I can’t sleep because I’m too hot. This is quite frustrating. . . . Does anybody . . . have any help to offer?”
You can train to run a marathon. You can train yourself to recognize Chopin. But can you train yourself to sleep (or train yourself not to have insomnia)?
Michael Schwartz, creator of the Sleep On Cue iPhone app, says yes.
You may know you’ve got insomnia. But could you prove it?
Researchers use pencil-and-paper tests to assess different aspects of sleep: sleep quality, insomnia severity, sleep reactivity, and sleep-related beliefs. If you’re unfamiliar with these questionnaires, you may find it interesting to look at them and see how you score.
It happens every year in the spring: someone writes in to The Savvy Insomniac complaining of an inexplicable onset of insomnia. No stress is involved, no abrupt change in circumstances.
If you find yourself experiencing insomnia at about this time every year, the problem may have to do with lengthening days. The solution may lie in reducing your exposure to sunlight.
First, the good news: a small body of research suggests that tart cherry juice holds promise as an alternative treatment for insomnia, especially in older adults.
Now for the bad news: tart cherry juice, already pricey, is set to become pricier still as growers weigh whether to give up on cherries and plant apple trees instead. Here’s more on the benefits of tart cherry juice for sleep and why it may soon become scarce.