Insomnia has been understood as an unavoidable condition of growing old. For many years it was considered a matter of fact that a healthy sleep starts to dwindle in late middle age. From then on it should steadily erode. Fortunately this is not true. However, there is some cause for concern. There are major endogenous and exogenous threats to your sleep ‘architecture’ and your sleep ‘quality’.
I love to be awake
Let me first explain my personal experiences with insomnia. I have none. Of course, now and then I wake up at night. Caused by a noise or an urgent sanitary call. It might even happen that I stay awake in bed for a couple of hours. I don’t mind. These are the hours that my mind is allowed to wander through all its corners and crevices. Kind of pleasant experience that is. The only really annoying disturbance is the racket people make in the middle of the night. I will come to that at the end, first I will introduce some data on insomnia.
Changing sleep habits
If you’re healthy you sleep and dream a little bit less than people that are not. However, half of people over 60 experience no sleep deprivation whatsoever. Moreover, insomnia is related to changes in people’s sleep habits between the ages of 20 and 60. Those habits foremost changed as a result of health conditions. Although environmental circumstances can also cause insomnia.
Personally I’m not aware of any changes in my sleep habits during the past 50 years. I can sleep any time during the day. Often I close my eyes in the afternoon for 10 to 20 minutes. Some call this a power nap. But I never experience my powers to increase after my nap. Fortunately my power naps never interfere with my night’s sleep. At least as far as I know. Since I always sleep 7 to 8 hours, I think I’m doing good.
No insomnia from food or drinks
We never eat a full meal after 19:00 hours and we only eat a full meal twice a day. We don’t add salt or pepper to our food, nor do we overspice it. I don’t drink coffee and only herbal tea, fruit juices or water. I have only one vice and that is that I drink sugar-free caffeinated sodas. Also during the evening. Never did these sodas interfere with my sleep habits (I think). Nor does the food we eat (for sure).
Insomnia, a discouraging experience
Actually, this raises the question whether sleep experiences are foremost personal and therefor subjective. Of course they are. However, insomnia is quite a different issue. Insomnia is traumatic, intrusive, overpowering, resistless, in short a discouraging experience, and for some in the end even lethal. Insomnia is no joke. It’s caused by personal habits and environmental conditions. It’s an ailment, a disorder that can be prevented and, if it’s too late, needs serious remedy.
Insomnia and personal habits
The following conditions are usually suggested as a source of insomnia:
- A weighty cause is the sun. Too much sunshine disrupts your physical rhythms.
- Chronic over-activity makes you hypersensitive to any noise.
- Illnesses such as rheumatism, ulcers, worn out hearts, migraine, asthma, bad kidneys, trauma etc., keep you awake. If not from worrying, it will be from pain or upset bowels or hypertension.
- Excessive use of alcohol and medication.
Insomnia and environmental conditions
In terms of its health consequences nocturnal environmental noise is pointed out as the most worrying form of noise pollution. Insomnia, as a result of nocturnal environmental noise, acts as a go-between for the disturbance of biological systems. This type of sleep deprivation causes endocrine and metabolic perturbations that are associated with long-term cardiometabolic, psychiatric and social adverse outcomes in adults and children.
Insomnia and its consequences
However, endogenous and exogenous sleep disorders have similar practical consequences:
- They keep you awake and tired during the daytime.
- They make you feel annoyed and change your mood for the worse.
- You will experience decreased well-being and decreased cognitive performance.
During your sleep you never lose contact with your environment. So much is clear from the relation between insomnia and nocturnal environmental noise. But this is also clear from the function of your dreams. In no way do your dreams refer to the experience of unfulfilled desires. You dream because during your sleep your brain needs to function. It’s purely a biological, albeit extremely important, function. This is clear from the fact that the same impulses that make you dream, keep your respiratory system in a state of readiness. Moreover, infants and animals also dream. But there is no apparent relation between your dreams and insomnia.
Insomnia and its remedies
If you experience serious insomnia, you have to consult a physician. For now you might try one of the following remedies:
- Change the arrangement of your bedroom. This is a simple type of conditioning.
- Go to bed and get out of bed at fixed times. Don’t change this.
- Don’t watch TV or sit behind your computer, laptop or mobile phone one hour before you go to sleep. Don’t bring any devices into your bedroom.
- Don’t worry when you try to sleep. This is somewhat more complicated, but try to think of anything that might distract you. No matter how unreal or unattainable.
- Do never catch up on lost sleep during the daytime.
- Stop drinking alcohol, coffee, tea and cola, stop smoking, and eating chocolate and cheese. And never eat after 19:00 hours.
- Keep a sleep diary and meditate.
Enjoy the silence. It’s for free
One of my slogans here in Spain is: “Disfruta el silencio. Es gratis.” In English: “Enjoy the silence. It’s for free.” Silence in Spain is quite a challenge because of the climatic conditions and the outdoor culture that goes with these conditions. But of late there is some rising political awareness of the detrimental effects of the noises produced by this kind of live. Of course, you and I, we are all able to make an effort and try to make life easier. You and I can actively contribute in the fight against insomnia by keeping our noises down.
Have a good night’s sleep!
* This blog is an extended version of my facebookpost about sleep problems.