"What does an agnostic, dyslexic, insomniac do? Stays up all night
wondering if there really is a 'DOG'."
Do you lay in bed "trying" to fall asleep for hours? Wake up frequently or too early? Discover in the morning that you lost an all-night wrestling match with the bedding? Troubled sleep and Americans make familiar bed-fellows.
One out of three adults suffers from periodic insomnia. During the day, they feel tired and irritable, doze into sleep at inappropriate times and report difficulty concentrating. The problem is that their energy is depleted from failing to fall-- and remain-- asleep when it is most desirable. In contrast, have you ever known someone who is filled with energy and motivation after having had only three or four hours sleep? You watch, bewildered, as this person powers his way through the day, knowing you can barely get going after seven hours sleep.
Due to differences in metabolism, among other things, some of us only require three hours while others need ten hours sleep. An average night's sleep is seven and one-half hours. A lack of sleep qualifies as insomnia only if an individual desires more sleep than his current sleep habits allow. That is, if he has difficulty falling asleep and remaining in that state; and if the resultant sleep deprivation negatively impacts his daily activities. Insomnia is a signal that there are other nighttime "agenda" items, which require attention before the item, "sleep" can be addressed.

  1. Emotional concerns. Anxiety, depression and other emotional states, manifested through endless internal dialogue, bad pictures or feelings, cause more than half of the cases of chronic insomnia. One can consume enormous quantities of energy recycling unpleasant experiences rather than turn- ing off the "light" and falling asleep.
  2. Physical and medical difficulties. Arthritis, back pain, indigestion, breathing difficulties from allergies or asthma can prevent one from falling asleep and maintaining it through the night. In some cases, sleep problems arise from the use of some prescription medications, muscle relaxants, diet pills, painkillers, alcohol, tobacco and coffee too late at night.
  3. Familiarity breeds...insomnia. The places that are the sights of sleep disturbance become anchored for those states of consciousness. In effect, once sleep difficulties become routine, the bedroom, bed, a book or magazine, and so forth become symbols of the frustrating failure to sleep, and can perpetuate the problem. Many people can successfully overcome insomnia by altering both their lifestyles and manners of representing experiences internally. Here are two suggestions:

      1. Get physical. Take control of your body. It's your most precious possession. Would you buy a six-million dollar racehorse and fill it with alcohol and nicotine the night before a race? Your life is filled with daily challenges. In order to meet them effectively, you need to keep your body-- and mind-- running smoothly. Late-night drinking can cause sleep disturbances. Nicotine is a stimulant. It increases blood pressure, heart rate and brain-wave activity, making it difficult to relax and sleep. Maintain a regular schedule for healthy meals, exercise (mostly in the morning) and bed- time. Have an early dinner, preferably between five and seven o'clock. Exercise briefly in the evening, but no later than eight p.m. Following an exercise period, find a comfortable place and engage in deep muscle relaxation or meditation. Begin a bedtime routine earlier-- by 9:30 p.m.
      2. Get serious about being less serious. Sleep is a spontaneous activity. As such, if you try to create it, you instead create a paradox from which it is difficult to escape: Be spontaneous! To illustrate the point, pay very close attention to your breathing-- another spontaneous activity. Try hard to remember not to forget to inhale after each exhale. Concentrate during your next few dozen breaths. Notice how your breathing becomes interrupted and irregular. Similarly, it is important to focus attention away from sleeping rather than trying to force it. A related point, in order to re- anchor the bed as a desirable, restful place, do not spend time im bed worrying about sleep. Get up and do something else until "sleep" calls you back. How is your breathing? Did you forget to breathe? Do you think if you turn attention away from sleeping you will for- get how to do that? Try it...but just in case, leave a note for yourself!