How to Deal With Insomnia

One common problem. Four expert solutions.

By Michael F. Roizen | M.D. and Mehmet C. Oz from Reader's Digest | August 2006

Some 30 million Americans suffer from insomnia. Here, our expert panel provides you with four different solutions for getting some rest:

The sleep specialist. Try behavior changes and proper use of medication. At night, keep away from bright light. In the a.m., open the shades and go out for a walk, to tell your brain, “This is the start of the day.” You can try OTC sleep aids, but if you suffer for more than three weeks, see a doctor. Prescription drugs are safe when used judiciously, and better than the consequences of not sleeping.
Neil B. Kavey, MD, Director, Sleep Disorders Center, New York-Presbyterian Hospital

The alternative source. Stress often plays a role in insomnia, so try to change your reaction to it. Don’t exercise or eat at the end of the day, and avoid or limit caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Enjoying a warm bath can help. Also, try taking 1,000 mg of calcium (it may calm your muscles and nerves, helping you sleep). Ask your doctor about melatonin supplements.
Gerald Lemole, MD, Associate Medical Director, Christiana Care Center for Heart and Vascular Health, Wilmington, Delaware

The nutritionist. Go to bed and get up at the same time daily. Keep your room dark and quiet, and remove distractions (no working in bed). Have a cup of herbal tea, such as chamomile, to relax your body. And remember, people who eat a healthy diet of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat protein feel better and sleep better.
Lisa Derosimo, MD, Owner, The Weight and Wellness Center, Jupiter, Florida

The mind/body pro. Lying in bed, starting from your legs and moving up to your head, tense your muscles one at a time, then release. Your body will feel more relaxed, like a rubber band after it’s been stretched. And try soothing alternate-nostril breathing. Exhale through one nostril, using your fingers to close the opposite nostril. Breathe in and out; then switch back and forth.
Sandra McLanahan, MD, Medical Director, Integral Health Center, Buckingham, Virginia

Bottom Line
Don’t underestimate the dangers of insomnia, including accidents from drowsiness. If you’re overweight, sleep apnea could be the cause; even a 5% weight loss can reduce many symptoms. A combination of all the advice here offers the best chance to sleep robustly, but if you’re still counting sheep, see a sleep disorders specialist for a diagnosis and advice on wise use of medications.