November 8, 2011

Relief for Insomnia: Try Meditation, Not Pills

Last Sunday's New York Times carried a feature on the upsurge in sleeping pill use by women, particularly working mothers. Here's some of what the Times had to say:

Mother’s little helper of the new millennium may in fact be the sleeping pill — a prescription not likely to inspire a jaunty pop song anytime soon. Nearly 3 in 10 American women fess up to using some kind of sleep aid at least a few nights a week, according to “Women and Sleep,” a 2007 study by the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit research group.
In the study, 80 percent of women reported being just too stressed or worried to drift happily into dreamland. Sleep clinics report that three in four insomnia patients are women.

A contributing factor to this epidemic of sleeplessness, sleep specialists say, may well be the persistent creep of technology into the evening hours, a time that formerly was spent relaxing and winding down.

Dr. Nancy Collop, director of the Emory Sleep Center in Atlanta, says: "There's always the worry another e-mail has come in. Just the light from the electronic book or the iPad screen is stimulating."

It's hard to resist the temptation to take one last look at Facebook or your e-mail before going to bed. For many, that makes falling asleep in the first place a problem.

Young mothers appear reluctant to knock themselves out with sleeping pills. But the use of sleep aids peaks for women 40-59. According to IMS Health, a health care consulting firm in Danbury, CT, 15,473,000 women in that age group received a sleep prescription last year, nearly twice the number of men. Zolpidem, the generic form of Ambien, was the overwhelming favorite.

Women who do not take prescription sleeping meds frequently find themselves wide awake around 3-4am, perhaps the peak hour for insomnia. These awakened women stay awake, running down a checklist like that of a mother in the Times article: "Did I send that e-mail to my client? Is the permission slip for pictures due today? Do Carrie's dance shoes still fit? Is Girl Scouts this week?"

Given their dueling roles as breadwinners and primary caregivers, women have way more problems with insomnia, sleep specialists say.

Men Are Not Immune from Insomnia
I can attest to that fact. And I know from talking with the men in my Parkinson's support group and other male friends that insomnia, particularly the 3am variety, afflicts men.

I've had bouts of serious insomnia several times. One of the craziest went on for about eight years. Most every night as I dozed off, my body would jerk, and I'd be wide awake until 4am or later. I discovered that if I bedded down on the living room couch, I could get a decent night's sleep. I kept trying to get back to the bedroom, but continued to get that body-jerk insomnia.

After several years, it finally occurred to me (d'uh!) that I had no trouble taking my afternoon nap in the bedroom and maybe -- just maybe -- the nightime culprit was the street lamp outside that shown through through the bedroom venetian blinds. I installed blackout curtains and... no more body-jerks. Back to sleeping in bed. Yes!

A Way of Dealing with Insomnia that Works for Me, and Might for You
A shorter, more intense, bout of insomnia occurred five years ago. For the first time, the sleeplessness was accompanied by panic attacks and depression. I sensed the problem arose from abusing Tylenol PM and Ambien to deal with jet lag after returning from one of my trips to Nepal. But doctors -- and a sleep specialist -- prescribed a variety of anti-depressants and sleep aids, one right after another. None of them worked. Finally, my shrink said it was time to ditch the meds and seek a holistic answer.

I tried a variety of things, including hypnosis and a trip to New York City to have my brain waves recorded and converted into a customized CD of sleep music based on my own brain waves! Talk about "New Age" therapies! Alas, no luck. It looked like nothing was going to work for me.

Then I read The Insomnia Solution, a new book that recommended a variety of approaches, including exercises. I tried them. Some seemed to help a little, but one was a winner!

It's basically a form of meditation, but with add-on features that work to keep my butterfly mind more focused. I described the technique (with photos) in a blog post last year. See

For variety, I often alternate this meditation with a progressive muscle relaxation exercise that I also described in an earlier post. See

Three A.M. Can Be A Perfect Time for Meditation
These days, I do my meditation exercises whenever I wake up for my middle-of-the-night bathroom visit. Usually the meditation (often mixed with some good old-fashioned day-dreaming) lasts 30 to 60 minutes. I always get right back to sleep.

A good description of why 3am is an ideal time to meditate was provided by a woman at the end of the Times article: "I know I'll have this time to myself. It's the only time in a 24-hour period when no one needs me or wants me or expects me to do something. Despite the inconvenience, it's a time that's blissfully mine."

Using that time for meditation makes it even more blissful.


Gedunk4 said...

A banana before bed gives me 8 hrs. of uninterupted sleep  also if I add alittle ice cream...that helps.


Lauren d'Ablemont Ragland said...

NUTMEG oil rubbed on one's forehead relaxes you to slumber, or sprinkle nutmeg on warm milk. I prefer CHAMOMILE tea but believe a couple of VALERIAN pills about an hour before bedtime is amazing.

Beverlykhayes said...

those are great ideas!  will try with my husband tonight!  he is 69 and was just diagnosed a couple of months ago. a good night's sleep makes the world of difference!

Enrico Galard said...

Thanks for sharing the information about meditation.Really needed Post!!!