10/31/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Wall Street Got Your Sleep?

I feel like I blogged on this topic just a few weeks ago. And I probably did. The depressing news is inescapable. You can't turn the TV on without getting punched in the stomach--even if you don't work in financials or own stock in them.

There are plenty of nervous people out there, especially seniors who have retirement funds falling with the whims of the market. Articles like this one show the extent of the damage leaking through the older communities. But you don't have to be retired or thinking about it soon to feel the heat. How many people are losing sleep over the state of affairs?

It wouldn't surprise me to learn that sleeping pill prescriptions are on the rise as the economy is on the decline, or at least in a temporary ditch. About one in five people take non-narcotic sleep aids now. Those who take something to help them fall and stay asleep are not advised to use them every single night, but my bet is that people who can't get a handle on their stress load or learn how to cope with the constant noise from the news and media are reaching for them routinely.

Don't get me wrong: I'm a big proponent of prescription sleep aids when the time and circumstance calls for them. The jury is still out, however, on their long-term effects when used frequently. For example, just last week my industry journal reported on a review of several studies showing a link between prescription sleeping pill use and skin cancer.  Don't panic: a direct causal link has not been proven between sleeping pills and skin cancer, and this report simply opens the door for more research and data-gathering.

It's worth noting, though, that sleeping pills are not the magical end-all be-all for people with sleep troubles. Given the volume of sleep troubles today, I'd love to see more people attempting to nix their sleep problems in the bud naturally before resorting to long-term use of prescription sleep aids. And that starts with turning off the media's noise. Today.

How to turn off the media noise with the lights at night:

  • This may sound obvious, but it bears repeating: turn off the news and stop reading all forms of current media at least two hours before bedtime.
  • Do something out of the ordinary before bed that takes your mind off the ordinary stress, such as taking a warm bath, getting a Swedish massage, taking a yoga class, or going for a light walk.
  • Avoid heated conversations about world affairs at dinner, or anytime after 3 pm for that matter.
  • See if you can go at least a day--and three if you can--during which you avoid all sources of news and media. Pretend you're on a deserted island and have no access to newspapers, the Internet, or the stock ticker on CNBC.

Stress is inevitable and in many ways, unavoidable. But it's manageable if you take charge of it.

A sign that you may not be managing stress well is if you find yourself going more than two weeks with a sleep aid every single night. If that's the case, then it may be time to call a time-out and examine why you're unable to get a good night's sleep naturally.

Think of it this way: the news will always be there no matter what. But your happy, vibrant self will not. I'd pick the latter over the former every day.

This article is cross-posted on Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.