How to treat and overcome insomnia

Overcoming sleep problems. Millions of people experience some form of insomnia. They have trouble falling asleep, they awake very early and are unable to go back to sleep, or having slept a few hours, they awake periodically until morning.

If you function normally during the day, you are probably getting enough sleep. Some people need less than 8 hours, some more.

Temporary insomnia may be related to illness (usually a pain-causing condition) or to a psychological disturbance-anxiety, depression, anticipation, or excitement. More serious is a disorder such as sleep apnea, in which a person temporarily stops breathing, snores, snorts, and then awakes to breathe. This sequence maybe repeated many times a night. It is a potentially dangerous condition requiring medical attention.

However, in most insomnia, the cause is far simpler: too much caffeine, too little activity, or nervous tension-the latter often brought on by worry about not sleeping.

Ordinary insomnia is usually relieved by one or more of the following measures. Avoid coffee, tea, and soft drinks containing caffeine after 12 noon. Avoid large, late-evening meals. Exercise daily. At bedtime take a warm bath (not a shower); drink a glass of warm milk-the tryptophan it contains promotes sleep. In bed read a difficult or boring book, not work-related materials or suspense stories. Engage in sexual intercourse; it has a sedative effect. Learn relaxation exercises to release tension.

If you aren’t asleep 10 minutes after retiring, get up and do something; return to bed only when you are really drowsy. Don’t habitually rely on alcohol or sleeping pills; in the long run, they make matters worse.