You know the feeling. Tossing and turning all night, punching your pillow, and your mind just won’t let go – it’s insomnia. For many people, insomnia is a chronic condition they face with dread. Getting enough sleep at night is very important to maintain good health and high energy, especially when traveling. Without a good night’s sleep, your body and mind work at less-than-optimal productivity. Jet lag, travel delays, time zone shuffles, and stress/worry are just a few of the many factors that can cause this disorder. Insomnia affects nearly everyone at one time or another, so let’s see what we can do to get you snoozing again!
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is the inability to get enough quality sleep to feel rested. This includes being unable to fall asleep or to stay asleep, waking up very early, and/or not feeling refreshed after sleeping. Certain medications and medical conditions, excessive stress, or poor sleeping/bedtime habits all affect sleep quality. While the majority of insomnia cases can be directly traced to stressful or anxiety-producing life events, there are also insomniacs with depression, vitamin and mineral imbalances, and breathing difficulties.
Developing good sleep habits is often one of the best treatments for this condition. Getting yourself back into a habit of going to bed at a regular time and avoiding stimulation (like exercise or caffeine) before bedtime may be enough to break the temporary pattern of sleeplessness. Relaxation techniques, dietary changes to include foods high in the amino acid tryptophan (bananas, turkey, cottage cheese, and milk), and a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise can all help you sleep more soundly.
A leading herb used for sleeplessness is valerian. Valerian root makes getting to sleep easier and increases deep sleep and dreaming. It does not cause a ‘morning hangover’ – a side effect common to some OTC sleep aids. Many people use 300 to 400mg of a concentrated valerian root preparation thirty minutes before bedtime.
Melatonin has also shown some success in getting sleep patterns back on track after experiencing JET LAG, but not for treating general insomnia.
Sleep aids like Tylenol PM and Nytol contain the antihistamine diphenhydramine and may be effective in the short term. A word of warning about all diphenhydramine products – they can make you very, very sleepy and groggy! While this is great for getting sleep, it isn’t so nice when you find yourself having to navigate in a foreign county. Give yourself plenty of time to sleep and to get over the lingering groggy effects.
Although over-the-counter sleep aids may be useful for occasional treatment of insomnia, especially during traveling, it is not a good idea to use these products on a regular basis. These do not help with the underlying cause of insomnia and may become less effective after a few days of use.
For cases of insomnia that last longer than one month, prescription medications from your doctor may be in order. A class of drugs called sedative-hypnotics are commonly prescribed to treat chronic insomnia. Ambien (generic zolpidem) and Lunesta (generic eszopiclone) are two of the medications in this class that you’ll see most often. These work to help you fall asleep faster, though some people still report a groggy feeling the next day. Use care if taking these if you need to be sharp in the morning.
Here’s to getting back on track and sleeping well! Take care!
As with all medical conditions discussed on the Internet, check first with your doctor before using any alternative treatments.
Happy, Healthy Travels!
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