Health Report: Scripps expert offers natural ways to get a better night’s sleep

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – With nearly half of Americans occasionally spending the night struggling to go to sleep or stay asleep, insomnia has become a major health issue.

The National Sleep Foundation reports that 48 percent of Americans say they suffer from insomnia at least once in a while, and another 22 percent say they experience the condition nightly or almost nightly.

The consequences of not getting enough sleep, particularly on an ongoing basis, can be significant. Insomnia can weaken the body’s immune system and lead to depression, anxiety, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, automobile accidents and missed work.

Many people who have difficulty sleeping try medications to ease their insomnia, but those drugs can trigger troubling side effects in some cases. Fortunately, there are a number of natural approaches to getting a good night’s sleep that are effective in the long term, according to John Cronin, M.D., a sleep medicine specialist at Scripps Clinic.

“The first step in treating insomnia naturally is identifying its cause,” he said.

A trip to the doctor can rule out any illness or underlying health problems. Since some medications can interfere with sleep, a doctor or pharmacist can help evaluate the potential consequences of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. The solution might be as simple as taking the medication in the morning instead of later in the day.

Caffeine or nicotine can also interfere with sleep. While alcohol may cause drowsiness initially, it can disrupt sleep several hours later. Exercise can help promote sleep if done in the morning or afternoon, but working out just before bed can actually make sleep more difficult.

Sleep can also be interrupted by depression, anxiety and stress about things such as work, finances, family problems, health or other issues. Identifying and resolving those issues can sometimes ease insomnia. Just talking about stressful issues with a counselor or a physician can help relieve some of the stress and improve sleep.

Benefits can come from practicing good sleeping habits, such as not watching TV in bed at night, and relaxation therapies, such as yoga and massage.

Taking advantage of the body’s natural clock, which is driven by the rising and setting of the sun, can also be effective, Dr. Cronin said.

“Understanding how to use the circadian rhythm is a very powerful tool that doesn’t require a prescription,” he said.

“In general, people should follow these four simple rules if they are having trouble falling to sleep,” Dr. Cronin said. “Reduce the time you spend in bed; wake up at the same time every day; go to bed only when you are sleepy; and don’t stay in bed if you are not sleeping.”

For more information on this and other health topics, visit scripps.org/KUSI.

Categories: Health