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.
Sometimes I hear from people whose sleep problem sounds more like a circadian rhythm disorder than insomnia. Laurel wrote that she’d always been a night owl. So she was taking sleeping pills to get to sleep at night.
But if her problem is due to a delayed or sluggish body clock—if what she has is delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD)—she’d be better off with other types of treatment. Here’s more:
Some people have trouble sleeping when the days get shorter. I’m one of them and so is Gabriel, who recently wrote in wondering how to improve his sleep:
“I was born close to the equator in Brazil, and I usually don’t have problems sleeping when I’m there or during the summer time in Canada, where I live now. But winter is around the corner, and my sleeping problems have just begun again. I usually go to bed at 11 p.m. but wake up around 3 a.m. However, in the summer my wake time is 7 a.m. I feel irritated, depressed and cannot concentrate. . . Is light treatment the way to go?”
Trouble sleeping is common in women at menopause, or so conventional thinking goes. Yet the latest word is that it’s during perimenopause when the trouble starts to brew.
Genetic factors may partly explain why insomnia is more common in women than in men. But hormonal changes during perimenopause and later in life are often cited as a more proximal cause of sleep problems that occur in midlife and older women.
Do you hold yourself to high (sometimes impossibly high) standards? Do you tend to be self-critical and cringe at making mistakes? Is it even difficult sometimes to take pleasure in your own hard-won achievements?
These are signs of perfectionism, and perfectionists are more susceptible to insomnia than people who can shrug off their mistakes.
Got an infant whose sleep is getting worse rather than better (and could this be a sign of incipient insomnia)? A toddler who won’t sleep alone? A 4-year-old who shifts into overdrive when he should be winding down?
Help is at hand. A new book, The Happy Sleeper, is a friendly guide for parents of young “problem sleepers.” In reality, say authors Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright, most babies and children have no trouble sleeping at all. Instead, the problem lies in the misguided tactics well-meaning parents use to help their babies sleep.
Last week a new friend was telling me about her sons. She has quite a bit of anxiety about their situation and, since reaching menopause, she’s had trouble sleeping. She tried sleeping pills and didn’t like the way they made her feel. But magnesium supplements seem to do the trick.
So I looked for research on magnesium, anxiety and insomnia and here’s what I found.