Insomnia and sleep problems are major complaints from people these days. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 70 million people in the USA may be affected by sleep problems with approximately 60% of the US population suffering from some type of chronic sleep disorder.
The use of medications to help people sleep is one of the fastest growing segments of the pharmaceutical industry. Between 2000 and 2004, the use of sleep medications doubled among adults 20-44 years old, and the use of these medications in children aged 10-19 increased by 85%. Every night we see ads on TV for Ambien, Lunesta and other sleep aids. Clearly, the promotion of sleep aids is a profitable endeavor for the pharmaceutical industry.
This trend is alarming. We know that extended use of sleep medications often makes insomnia worse over the long term, and many prescription sleep meds can be habit-forming. These drugs often don't treat the cause of sleep problems, thus becoming a crutch instead of a cure, and have a plethora of side-effects. While we know that the use of sleep medications should be restricted to brief periods of time and used intermittently, it is very common to see people at our clinic who have used sleep aids for months or even years at a time.
Fortunately, there are many natural solutions that address the causes of insomnia and other sleep problems which have few if any side effects, are cost effective (or free), and can help improve overall health. One of the most effective behavioral remedies we've found is keeping a regular bed and wake time schedule.
Our sleep-wake cycle is regulated by our brain as part of our circadian, or daily, rhythm. Nervous system chemicals such as melatonin and cortisol tell our minds and bodies when it's time to sleep and when it's time to wake up. By keeping regular sleep hours, we strengthen our natural circadian rhythms which helps us fall asleep more easily. This is especially true if you have different schedules on different days of the week. If you're used to getting up at 6 am on weekdays to go to work but sleep in until 10 am on weekends, your circadian rhythms change as if you flew to the east coast every weekend. No wonder you're tired on Monday morning!
Try it; it works well. I haven't used an alarm clock in years unless there was a special circumstance and find that my body and mind fall in to natural cycles of the seasons. I get sleepy around 10 pm nightly and naturally wake up around 6-7 am in the morning, and have good daytime energy levels. These times vary slightly from winter to summer with changes in daylight. Make sure you allow 7 to 9 hours in bed nightly to get sufficient sleep and rest. If events come along that change this rhythm, that's to be expected; just be sure that the sleep bed and wake times are generally consistent over the long term.