Insomnia: it is common, but it’s not as big an epidemic as you think.

Whenever I do a talk show or a speech, someone always asks me if I have any special tips for how to deal with insomnia, a condition that means chronically having insufficient sleep to function effectively.

We don’t necessarily need eight hours of sleep all at once. Many people, even from the early years of childhood, need only a few hours of sleep to function well.



Most adult need less sleep as they grow older. In these individuals adding more hours of rest to their schedule adds nothing to their energy levels, and indeed may make them feel worse.

Examples of true insomnia do exist, such as when one has a snoring spouse, a crying baby, or a medical disorder such as a prostate or thyroid problem. People with these conditions are totally exhausted during their day, can’t function well at all, and do require medical attention. However, the vast majority of people who think they are insomniacs can, and should, be treated without any medications.

I have had countless elderly patients request sleeping pills, or take the non-prescription variety on their own, because they are fed up with lying in bed wide awake, staring at the ceiling. Especially if they can function well, or could catch up on sleep with a short nap, It is foolhardy for these people to risk the side effects of drugs to fight off a disease they don’t even have. Rather than feeling hard done by, those who only need a few hours of sleep should be grateful for having the gift of extra years on their lives. If you don’t feel sleepy until two or three in the morning, don’t go to bed. If you wake up hours before the rest of the world, get out of bed, and get busy using those extra hours to make the rest of your day’s schedule a little more productive.

Winston Churchill credited his legendary stamina to his ability to take brief naps, and exist on only a few hours sleep. So if you can’t get all your sleep at once, then try to take brief naps when you can. Don’t let a little thing like insomnia keep you awake nights.

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Here’s an action tip:

Before you reach for help in pill form, consider handling insomnia through simpler means, such as organizing your time management (to allow an uncluttered sleep), using hypnosis tapes, and avoiding heavy meals, alcohol, and caffeine before bedtime. Get into the habit of bedtime relaxations, such as having a hot bath or drinking hot milk.

Taken from a recent post on how our modern life styles have created an environment where it’s more difficult to relax and sleep, here are a few suggestions that may help:

  • Turn out the lights, turn off the distractions of television, music, Blackberry/iPhone and the web.  If needed, turn off the main power bar, so all the little lights won’t beckon from your equipment!
  • Try a hot bath, but do it in a low-tech way.  Aromatic bath salts like lilac are very relaxing, as are scented candles.  Use the darkness as a comforting backdrop, and let your body’s natural rhythms take you into deep sleep.  Once you are out of the deep bath, naturally.
  • Invest in black-out curtains, or, if your windows are too big, then a good blindfold. 
  • Allow yourself to relax, and not think of sleep as the only goal here.  Even just keeping your eyes closed will offer some help, and, as long as you don’t get impatient, sleep will eventually follow.
  • When you need to get up for your next day’s work, turn on all the lights, turn up the sounds, and let all the stimulation jump-start your body into full action.
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