Read this if you cannot sleep

The good news is if you think you cannot sleep you are probably wrong.  It's not that you can't sleep - it's that you are not sleeping like you want or you are not getting the results from sleep like feeling refreshed that you expect.

The reality is if you cannot sleep you die.  If you are reading this then that has not happened yet.  The only way you would die from insomnia is if you had a very rare neurological disease that affects middle age people called fatal familial insomnia. Insomnia is only one of the symptoms.  Others symptoms include hallucinations and movement problems such as difficulty walking.  I have never diagnosed fatal familial insomnia (and I hope I never will) so I am certainly not an expert on it.  I have also never seen anyone die from insomnia so I don't think I have missed a case. 

Most people deal with insomnia at some point of their life.  Unfortunately when people recognize they are having trouble sleeping the first thing they do is reach for a bottle of pills. Pills do not solve the problem and the most common prescription "sleep"  medicines are associated with an increased risk of death. It does not make sense to prescribe these medicines for a condition that is not life threatening to begin with. 

New data out this week suggests over the counter medications - commonly referred to as supplements - may not be safe either.  A recent JAMA article highlighted a high rate of adulterated substances in nutritional supplements.  The article was not specific to substances marketed to sleep but I think it would be naive to think they are not contaminated.  That information should make you lose sleep at night.  The reality is that when you buy a supplement you have no idea what you are putting in your body.  You are relying on the integrity of the company making the product.  Call me cynical but the first goal of most companies I encounter is not to promote my well being - it is to help me depart with some of my money. 

If you need help with your sleep instead of looking to the pill bottle approach your insomnia or poor quality sleep like any other problem - identify the underlying cause and treat it. I can't promise the process will be simple - but it will be more effective than taking pills.