Drip … drip … drip.
Yip… yip … yip!
Insomnia. When every drip of the bathroom faucet echoes in the night like World War II. And the yapping of the dog down the block assumes the cadence of a Japanese mantra.
Insomniacs. They’re kind of like the calf lying down with the lion. According to Woody Allen, they can lie down together, "but the calf won’t get much sleep."
Neither do you, if you’re one out of every seven or eight people, or an estimated 30 million Americans who suffer from occasional sleeplessness. Anxiety about illness, divorce, death of someone close to you, or money difficulties may keep you awake long after the late night TV hosts have turned in.
Medical experts say that periodic bouts of insomnia are not a health problem. In fact, since the effects of sleep are cumulative, you can make up for a couple of restless nights by sleeping longer another night. But if the growing number of sleep disorder clinics around the country are any indication, serious sleep problems are increasing.
The consequences can be far more serious than a few lost Z’s and can include impaired short-term memory and attention spans, irritability, headaches, and slower reaction times. Even many automobile crashes be sleep related.
Can’t sleep? Don’t count sheep; try some of these suggestions:
• Create a routine. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day. Develop your own ritual — turn on your bedside lamp, warm up the electric blanket, brush your teeth, turn down the covers, whatever — do the same thing nightly to prepare yourself to sleep.
• Reserve your bed. To program your body for rest when you’re in bed, don’t read in bed, or write letters, or watch TV. Use your bed only for sleeping.
• Avoid sleeping pills. Drugs can lose their effect in only a couple of weeks and actually aggravate insomnia, rather than cure it. In fact, studies conducted at Penn State (www.science.psu.edu) indicate that sleeping pills can bring on chronic insomnia if used for more than two weeks. And worse, when you stop taking them, nightmares can supplant sweet dreams you were expecting.
• Don’t drink alcohol. By their very name, nightcaps should naturally lull you to sleep. When alcohol is first taken, it acts as a sedative. But then it metabolizes during sleep, causing a withdrawal effect. The person is aroused by it and will not sleep restfully as a result.
• Drink camomile, not caffeine. Tea, caffeine colas and coffee all disrupt sleep patterns. Camomile (herb) tea, however, may induce sleep.
• Eat high-carbohydrate foods. Eat a cereal or bread snack about a half hour before bedtime. These foods contain serotonin, a sleep-inducing substance in the brain.
• Kick back. Listen to some soothing music. Read a book (you might avoid Stephen King just before bed, but Theodore Dreiser is guaranteed to put you to sleep). Also, try some yoga or meditation exercises.
If these strategies don’t conquer the insomnia, ask your doctor to diagnose whether your particular problem might respond better to other treatments.