In a recent post, we reviewed the Top Ten ways that stress can hurt us. One of the top complaints was insomnia, which has become a growing issue for stressed workers today. One of the principle reasons for this is Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb. Before Edison, people would work all day in the fields or in the homesteads, using ambient daylight for their tasks. Once darkness fell, rooms were lit with candles or gas lamps, and quickly the stimulation levels would drop. Once the light was blown out, the body's natural circadian rhythm would take over. In darkness, the pineal gland starts its nightly production of melatonin, and the heart slows down its rate and ouput, so that it only supplies blood to itself, and to the brain and lungs. The rest of the body gets very little circulation intentionally, as the sleeping muscles don't need much oxygen or fuel. And the muscles needed their rest because they had been well worked during a day of vigourous movement. Insomnia was actually very rare.
But on October 22, 1879, Edison turned on the lights. A year later his Edison Illuminating Company made the rest of our nightly distractions possible: he cranked up the music, and turned on the movies. With the advent of light, jobs could now be carried on around the clock. Electricity could simulate daytime so well that the pineal gland had no hope of controlling our melatonin. Shifts of workers had to adapt to working at all hours, and trying to sleep during bright daylight.
To this is added the modern Time Famine. Like a food famine, only now it is time we are lacking. So our jobs are influenced by current events in all 24 time zones of the world, and we can be reached on the internet or cell phone at a moment's notice. News junkies can get their fixes as often as they want to jump on line, and are not limited to weekly or daily editions of print media.
As a consequence, insomnia has become one of the top modern Stress disorders.
Before you ask your doctor for medications, consider some simple steps to fighting back against insomnia:
1. Try the anti-edison move: turn out the lights, turn off the distractions of television, music, Blackberry/iphone and the web. If needed, turn off the main power bar, so all the little lights won't beckon from your equipment!
2. Try a hot bath, but do it in a low-tech way. Aromatic bath salts like lilac are very relaxing, as are scented candles. Use the darkness as a comforting backdrop, and let your body's natural rhythms take you into deep sleep. Once you are out of the deep bath, naturally.
3. Invest in black-out curtains, or, if your windows are too big, then a good blindfold.
4. Allow yourself to relax, and not think of sleep as the only goal here. Even just keeping your eyes closed will offer some help, and, as long as you don't get impatient, sleep will eventually follow.
5. When you need to get up for your next day's work, then its time to enlist Edison's Electricity: turn on all the lights, turn up the sounds, and let all the stimulations jump-start your body into full action.
If you are a shift worker, the blindfold and ear-plugs can help you imitate night during day. In this case, you will indeed need Edison's Electricity to help you focus and stay alert during your "day" of work.
Try to also simulate the pre-1879 body's needs for fuel. Eat well before you do your work, then eat less before you do your sleep.
So try to fight some of our high-tech stresses with some low-tech (and high touch) solutions. If all else fails, ask your doctor for further suggestions.