Mr. Norris, I unfortunately have joined a number of Americans who are sleep-deprived. In these tough times with stress running high, it’s difficult to get all the sleep I need. Any recommendations? – Tom F., Seattle
“The first stress symptom people experience is insomnia,” says Dr. Gregg D. Jacobs, an insomnia specialist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “The size of the sleeping pill market can only go up because of the economy and stress.”
The Los Angeles Times reported a short time ago, “Prescriptions for sleeping medications topped 56 million in 2008 – a record, according to the research firm IMS Health, up 54 percent from 2004.”
Furthermore, a study by Medco, a large managed care company, found that sleep medication usage was up 85 percent since 2000.
We all know how it feels to get a bad night’s sleep. And most have sought some solution for sleeplessness. But as necessary as prescriptions might be for some insomniacs, I don’t believe the remedy for most needs to include sleep medication, which is undoubtedly the reigning champion as the fastest and easiest cure.
And sleeplessness isn’t partial to any age group. It might be surprising for some to hear that sleeping aids are rapidly on the rise among youths, as well. With even more teenagers and college-aged people staying up later at night, texting, e-mailing, talking on cell phones, playing online games, dining on five-hour energy drinks, frolicking into the early morning hours and simultaneously trying to squeeze in time for homework, more and more are turning to quick sleeping fixes.
And in an age of prescription abuse, many even are using them as party pills, calling Ambien “zombie pills” or “tic-tacs.” Insomnia itself has become a fad and even an addictive state of mind.
As one of the characters in the popular movie “Fight Club” (based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk) said, “When you have insomnia, you’re never really asleep and you’re never really awake.”
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 25 percent of teens report sleeping only 6 1/2 hours a night or less. That is why it is no surprise that the health-care business Thomson Reuters discovered that the use of prescription sleeping medication among college students has nearly tripled in the past eight years.
Insomnia is, of course, not a modern problem, though it has greatly increased on many fronts. During even the founding days of America, people such as Thomas Jefferson were finding remedies for sleep deprivation.
He gave us glimpses into his own sleep patterns: “I am not so regular in my sleep as the Doctor (Rush) says he was, devoting to it from five to eight hours, according as my company or the book I am reading interests me; and I never go to bed without an hour or half hour’s previous reading of something moral whereon to ruminate in the intervals of sleep. But whether I retire to bed early or late, I rise with the sun.”
In his book “The Seven Pillars of Health,” Dr. Don Colbert says that getting adequate amounts of sleep is necessary if you expect to function properly and remain healthy. A good night’s sleep restores, repairs and rejuvenates the body. It is actually vital for the immune system and slows the aging process.
Dr. Mark Stibich also has studied sleep extensively and shares 10 benefits of a good night’s sleep: It keeps your heart healthy, may prevent cancer, reduces stress, reduces inflammation, enhances alertness, bolsters memory, may help you lose weight, makes you smarter, reduces risks of depression (and) helps the body make repairs.
Consult a health practitioner and check reputable guides to see whether you are getting sufficient hours of sleep for your age or for advice on how to sleep for a few more hours each night and on overcoming sleep obstacles. Colbert’s chapter on sleep provides some wonderful counsel. He agrees with most sleep experts, who say that adequate amounts of sleep are generally between seven and nine hours per day.
So what are some nonprescriptive ways to get more sleep?
There are different natural alternatives and strategies, including exercising more regularly (which releases natural endorphins), learning to handle stress better, changing behaviors or life patterns, getting counseling and taking natural herbs, such as melatonin. Even recognizing the power of Providence in your life can assist.
As Victor Hugo, the author of the classic “Les Miserables,” wrote, “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.”
Though there’s no, one perfect insomnia remedy for everyone, it’s hard for anyone to deny the universal and practical wisdom of Benjamin Franklin: “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
Then again, if you are a late-night person like my wife, Gena, and me, I suppose even that’s debatable!