We've all pulled all-nighters - you know how crappy you feel after cramming for that final exam. But imagine how you'd feel if your entire life consisted of one all-nighter after another . . . forever. If you feel like a rock instead of sleep like one, you may be among the 40-50% of tired Americans who complain of occasional bouts with insomnia. In fact, every year as many as 10 million Americans consult a physician for help with their sleep disorders (don't worry . . . they don't all go to the same physician). True, Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill and Florence Nightingale only slept four hours a night, but they were obviously freaks of nature. While the required amount of sleep varies from person to person, most of us mere mortals need between 7 and 9 hours a night.

Insomnia can have serious repercussions, including:

  • Making us feel crappy and listless
  • Making us moody
  • Lowering our thinking speed and productivity
  • Weakening the immune system, making us more susceptible to viruses
  • Being a major factor in 200,000 auto accidents every year
  • Costing the economy billions for work place absenteeism
  • Playing a role in industrial disasters such as Exxon Valdez and the Three Mile Island nuclear plant accident

Since no one likes nuclear meltdown, it is important to take steps to prevent insomnia. Fortunately, some very simple lifestyle changes can help you get better zzzz's. And believe us, unless you are a shepherd, you won't miss counting those sheep.


OK, so let's get the definition out of the way: "insomnia" describes any episode of unrefreshing sleep, difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings, or waking up too early in the morning. Women and the elderly are the most frequent victims.

So to overcome your insomnia, your first move is to classify the type you are battling, because each type presents unique challenges and calls for different treatment. The three basic kinds are:

Transient insomnia
Short-term insomnia
Chronic insomnia

Transient insomnia

Transient insomnia is a disturbance in sleeping patterns which lasts for a few nights only. In this case, you are a princess who has a brief run-in with a frustrating pea such as: jet lag, excitement, stress, illness, or a change in sleep schedule.

Here is the good news: those with transient insomnia soon return back to normal, and sleeping pills ease the course of the problem. While not conducive to long-term use, in the short term sleeping pills provide relief without fear of dependence or a gradual loss of their effectiveness.

Short-term insomnia

Short-term insomnia is slightly more serious because it persists for about 2-3 weeks. Contributing factors include a job change, divorce, serious illness, financial problems, or the death of a close friend/relative.

Chronic insomnia

Chronic insomnia is the rarest and most serious type, with episodes lasting longer than a few weeks. In spite of this, 10-15% of the US population suffers from it.

To combat chronic insomnia you must first rule out the possibility that it is a symptom of some other underlying health problem. See a doctor to ensure that such conditions as heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy, pregnancy, menopause, or arthritis are not responsible for the sleep loss. In addition, medications prescribed for certain health conditions such as high blood pressure or asthma may adversely affect sleep.

You should also identify any psychological factors standing in the way of your beauty rest. If you feel sad, worthless, or suicidal, you may be depressed. In fact, one of the premiere symptoms of depression is the inability to go back to sleep after waking up too early. By treating mental conditions, you can often alleviate the sleeping problem that is just a manifestation of a larger issue (ooh . . . how Freudian).