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McKinnon: Sleepless in San Diego

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.”

Most of us endure sleepless nights occasionally, but many suffer a lifetime of restless nights and foggy days. Insomnia is a recognized medical condition affecting an estimated 58 percent of adult Americans.

Defined as an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, it can also mean waking earlier than desired and is often accompanied with fatigue throughout the day. While there are many medical reasons for insomnia, a major percentage of the cases seen in our clinic are caused by poor lifestyle habits and bad sleep hygiene.

Extended insomnia can affect judgment, ability to work effectively and potentially lead to depression or the worsening of diabetes and/or high blood pressure.

Here are some tips for a better night’s sleep.

1. Keep regular hours: Just like when you were a kid, set a regular bedtime. A consistent bedtime allows you to mentally wind down for lights-out.

2. Be ready for bed at bedtime: Don’t wait for lights-out to brush your teeth and floss, do that early so you can jump right into bed.

3. Get in the mood with proper lighting: Bright light signals our brains to be active. Tell your brain its time to sleep by dimming the lights early in the evening, and sleep in total darkness. An eye mask can help light-saturated urban dwellers.

4. Turn that T.V. off: Television, computers and video games give us loads of stimulation and keep our minds going even after our body wants to fall asleep. Listen to relaxing music and record your favorite late night shows for another time.

5. The bed should be for sleeping: The bed is for sleeping and other wholesome adult activities. If you can’t sleep, move to another room and read for a while.

6. Exercise for sleeping: One of the best things we can do for ourselves is exercise. No time for the gym? Just 30 minutes of brisk walking after meals aids digestion, increases circulation and improves sleep.

7. Avoid too many stimulants: Coffee and energy drinks will give you a short-term boost but can leave you feeling burned out and still unable to sleep. Avoid stimulating beverages after 3 p.m. If you feel chronically fatigued, you may need to cut your sugar consumption and take a B vitamin complex, a natural energy booster.

8. Try some simple supplementation: I often prescribe 5-HTP, a precursor to Serotonin that regulates mood and sleep. A pinch of sea salt in a glass of warm water may also help with mild insomnia. We also use several classic herbal formulas to treat the underlying conditions associated with insomnia in our patients.

Other serious causes of insomnia include sleep apnea, clinical depression and restless leg syndrome. We recommend you seek medical attention for recurring or long-term sleep issues.

Dave McKinnon, L.Ac., is a SDNN contributor state-licensed acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist at Sustain Community Acupuncture. For more information cal (619) 358-9508 or contact him at info@sustaincommunityacupuncture.com.