Can’t sleep? You’re not alone. Millions of men just like you are staring bleary-eyed at the screen right now trying to find a cure for their insomnia. Let’s take a look at the health effects caused by insomnia, why you’re having trouble sleeping, and some natural remedies for the sleep-deprived.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is characterized by the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep for a period of time. You may lay awake at night staring at the clock or wake up every hour and a half or so unable to doze back off. When you can’t sleep at night, you feel like you’re slogging through your day only half aware of what’s going on around you. Though your body eventually gets used to less sleep, sleep-deprived individuals are at increased risk for serious health problems.
The Sleep-Deprived Man: A Portrait
When you have trouble sleeping for long periods of time, it can cause some noticeable changes in your appearance and mood. Some physical changes you may notice include:
- Baldness – If you’re prone to male pattern baldness, sleep deprivation can make you lose your hair even faster. This is because long-term insomnia puts a great deal of stress on the body, which could trigger telogen effluvium. Telogen effluvium is a sudden diffuse shedding of hair caused by stress or illness.
- Dark Under-Eye Circles – As if sudden baldness isn’t enough to make you look older than you are, insomnia can lead to permanent dark circles under your eyes. Since most men don’t wear make-up, it’s not as easy to cover up as it is for women.
- Older-Looking Skin – The effects of sleep deprivation doesn’t stop there. After weeks or months of chronic insomnia, your skin begins to dry out and fine lines and wrinkles appear. Furthermore, since chronic sleep loss depletes your immune system, you may also develop eczema or psoriasis.
- Love Handles – If you’re trying to lose weight and wondering why it’s going nowhere, it could be due to the fact you can’t sleep at night. Chronic sleep deprivation causes hormonal changes in your body and can quickly pack on the pounds.
More Physical and Mental Health Problems Associated with Insomnia
Insomnia doesn’t just affect the outside of your body; it can contribute to these physical and mental health problems as well:
- Memory/Concentration Problems
Forgetting your keys? Missing meetings? Over the course of several weeks or months of chronic sleep deprivation, your memory and concentration can become seriously affected. This is not only frustrating and embarrassing, it could even mean your life if you operate heavy machinery on the job!
- High Blood Pressure
If you get less than 6 hours of continuous sleep per night, it can lead to high blood pressure. During sleep, your heartbeat slows, giving your heart a chance to rest for a long period of time. When your heart doesn’t get this rest, it can cause it work overtime, elevating your blood pressure. Sleep deprivation also interferes with your brain’s ability to regulate hormones. This can also cause your blood pressure to spike.
If you ever wonder why the little things get on your nerves after a particularly bad night of sleep, there’s research to explain it. According to an article published in Scientific American, the emotional brain activity of sleep-deprived individuals showed 60% more activity when exposed to gruesome images than the brains of those who had a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep seems to completely rewire the brain, making you react in a “fight-or-flight” way even when the situation doesn’t call for it.
There have been conflicting reports as to whether or not a poor night’s sleep can contribute to depression. Some research has suggested that some loss of R.E.M. or “dream sleep” can actually alleviate the symptoms of major depression while other research has claimed the exact opposite. The truth is chronic sleep deprivation can lead to mental health problems so even if your depression lessens, your anxiety might just get worse.
Why You Have Trouble Sleeping
Now that you know the health dangers of insomnia, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you might be unable to sleep.
- Andropause (Male Menopause)
If you’re a man over 40, you might have trouble sleeping because of low testosterone caused by andropause or male menopause. If you also experience low libido, you can raise your testosterone levels naturally to get some sleep (and maybe some pre-sleep nookie too).
- Sleep Apnea
Low testosterone levels can decrease muscle tone in the throat and cause constricted breathing. Obesity can also contribute to this common syndrome. When you don’t get enough air as you sleep, your body wakes you up to prevent suffocation. You may not remember it but this constant sleep interruption can wreck havoc with your physical and mental health.
- Prostate Problems
If you’re getting up to urinate more than two times per night, you might have a prostate problem such as benign prostatic hypertrophy. If you have trouble urinating or have a weak stream, talk with your doctor about testing you for BPH.
Certain over-the-counter and prescription medications can cause sleeplessness. Research each medication you’re currently taking to see if insomnia is a side effect. If so, ask your healthcare provider about switching to a new medication.
- Your Sleep Partner
If your sleep partner snores like a freight train or tosses and turns like a gazelle being mauled by a lion, this might be the reason for your sleepless nights.
Do you wake up the same time every night but don’t know why? Do the upstairs neighbors or their dog keep you tossing and turning? What about the television? The body rests easier in a quiet, light-free environment.
- Restless Legs Syndrome
If you feel strange sensations in your legs and a constant desire to move them, restless legs syndrome may be the reason you can’t sleep. Research has suggested RLS may be caused by a magnesium deficiency.
If you have trouble sleeping, you may have turned to an alcoholic beverage or two to knock yourself out. Unfortunately, alcoholic dependency can lead to chronic insomnia. According to published studies, up to 72% of alcoholics suffer from insomnia.
Natural Remedies for Insomnia
Over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids are not only addictive, they have some pretty serious side effects associated with them including walking or driving while sleep! Give these natural alternatives a try first:
- Earplugs/Sleep Mask
If loud snoring or light keeps you up at night, try sleeping with earplugs and/or a sleep mask. Properly fitted, most earplugs will block out 36-38 decibels of ambient noise.
- Progressive Relaxation
If anxiety has you tossing and turning, try a progressive relaxation technique. Lie flat on your back and, starting with your face, tense your muscles for a count of thirty then relax. Move on to your neck and do the same. Next, tense and relax your shoulder muscles and continue onward until you’ve tensed and relaxed each part of your body down to your toes. Start by taking a few slow, deep breaths then breathe normally throughout the course of the exercise.
- Kick Your Pet Out of Bed
If you sleep with your pets, this is another cause of sleep deprivation. Kick Fido or Spot out of bed and close the bedroom door. They might be irritated with you for a night or two but they’ll get over it and you’ll get some much-needed rest.
No matter what type of shape you’re in or how much energy you don’t have, you need to get some kind of exercise at least three times a week in order to function and get good rest. Start by walking around the block or taking a swim in the pool at your local gym and build up from there as your body and energy allow.
- Chelated Magnesium
Magnesium is an essential mineral that’s responsible for over 300 enzymatic reactions in your body. Insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, and irritability are all signs of a magnesium deficiency. To remedy this, try adding a chelated magnesium supplement to your diet.
Valerian is a natural herb that helps ease feelings of stress and anxiety and promotes deeper, more relaxing sleep. If you are on blood-thinners, talk with your doctor first before adding valerian to your diet.
Chamomile is another naturally-sedating herb that can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep throughout the night. However, if you have hay fever or are allergic to plants in the dandelion family, use caution with this herb as it could make your symptoms worse.
Insomnia sucks. No body wants to toss and turn all night and wake up irritable in the morning. To get the better of insomnia, try the natural remedies and treatments and see if it helps. If prostate problems or sleep apnea are causing your troubled sleep, talk with your doctor about your options. No matter how long you’ve had trouble sleeping, there is always a way to treat it. Don’t give up. A better night’s sleep might be just around the corner.