Are you an insomniac? If so, then which kind? The one who flat-out can't ever get to sleep? Or are you the type who falls asleep okay but then has a restless night of tossing and turning as you struggle to stay in dreamland? If you're the latter, there's hope--maybe.
I just read about a new study that details how scientists have found mutations in two genes that could clue us into understanding insomnia better. These two genes control electrical excitability in a particular area in the brain known to be involved in sleep.
Of course, the researchers were looking at mice genes, but this could give us a model for understanding how a genetic mutation could partly be to blame for those restless nights. And it could lead us to better treatments in the future. But this would certainly come with a few, shall I say, caveats.
No one who suffers from insomnia likes to hear that it's a "vague" disorder. But it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what's causing it.
For some, an underlying medical condition or chronic pain could be the culprit.
For others, it could be psychiatric problems like depression, or another sleep disorder like restless leg syndrome (RLS).
The other hard part about insomnia is there is no easy "cure." In fact, there may never be. You have to address all the factors that could be channeling the sleeplessness. With stress running our 24-7 lives today, it's no wonder insomniacs are on the rise.
But, what if some of those insomniacs could blame (partly or wholly) a mutant gene?
I think this opens the conversation up to an even wider playing field. Much wider. This could make this particular area of study fuzzier.
To that I pose this question: Assuming you could "turn off" that gene, would someone who has this mutation and insomnia then be insomnia-free?
Is seriously doubt it. Call me cynical. Sure, some lucky few who could blame all of their sleepless nights on a dysfunctional gene would be just that--lucky.
I think we owe the vast majority of insomnia to other causes, from medical to psychological to plain practical (screwing up our sleep cycles by staying up too late, working too long, and taking all of our worries to bed with us).
I challenge anyone who has trouble getting a good night's sleep--no matter what kind of sleep trouble you have--to go on vacation to a truly relaxing place and see if you still have the same sleep issues on the third day of your bliss.
Okay, okay... so a trip to Hawaii or Bora Bora may not be in the cards. Here are my top 5 ways to ensure (not guarantee, but close enough to it!) a good night.
1. Set aside a Power Down hour before bedtime. Stop work. No
chores. Do something relaxing like take a warm bath, engage in light
reading, or watch TV if that's relaxing for you (avoid the news
2. Go to bed and get up at the same time 7 days a week--no matter what!
3. Schedule in at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. You can break up these minutes into pockets of 10 minutes if you have to. Here's an idea: Expose yourself to bright, morning natural light (a good thing for calibrating the body's natural clock) with a brisk walk before breakfast, then again at lunch, and after dinner.
4. Avoid caffeine after 2 pm in the afternoon. Don't forget hidden sources like soda, and some headache medicines.
5. Adopt some mind-, body-, and sleep-friendly practices like meditation, massage, or yoga.
If you know that pain or a medical condition is affecting your sleep, including meds that you take to treat that condition, speak candidly with your doctor about it. You may have options you have not explored yet to address both the medical condition and your insomnia.
For more ideas, and a specific day-by-day program that you can tailor to your lifestyle to help you achieve restful sleep, I encourage you to grab a copy of my book.
Follow Dr. Michael J. Breus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thesleepdoctor