Life as an Insomniac

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Longtime insomniac Gayle Greene talks about her own struggles with sleeplessness, and why so many other Americans have sleeping disorders. Her new book is Insomniac.

Weigh in: If you suffer from insomnia, what do you think causes it? What helps to alleviate your sleeplessness?


Gayle Greene

Comments [38]

John from Brooklyn

I developed insomnia when I hit 30, and it became a real problem. In the last year, with my doctor's help and through my own research, I've come up with a simple system that completely ended the insomnia.

I discovered that the root of my problem was that my body clock had become out of sync with the natural day/night cycle.

First, I stopped drinking any caffeine. This is a must. Caffeine isn't just a stimulant - it also resets your body clock and can put you out of sync with the day/night cycle. This is why it's so helpful in getting over jet lag. This had a huge, immediate effect - and I didn't really drink that much coffee or soda to begin with.

Second, I started going to the gym more, and in the evening. Our bodies weren't designed to sit at a desk all day. Going to the gym burns off energy and prepares the body to sleep.

Third, I started take a small (1mg) dose of Melatonin every Sunday night around 10 in the evening. Melatonin helps to reset your body clock to get you back on the right day/night cycle. I found that without it, my cycle would start to drift later and later over the course of the week.

That's it. Three simple steps. No prescription drugs. Problem solved.

Apr. 17 2008 02:05 PM
Helen Yrisarry from Sunnyside, NY

I can't tell you how comforting this talk by Gayle Greene on insomnia was. I totally agree with her about the guidelines given by the "experts". She wondered about post menopausal women. I'm in that category and I have to say my insomnia is worse than ever. Through the years I've wondered if I've forgotten how to fall asleep.


Apr. 15 2008 08:29 PM
Sarah from Brooklyn

Try nasal irrigation with a neti pot before going to bed to help improve nighttime breathing.

Apr. 15 2008 02:39 PM
lucie from 11217

for those who wake up in the middle of the night, I just discovered something that actually puts me back to sleep in about 10 minutes. you do child's pose with knees apart (balasana), but put your entire torso and head on a bolster, turning your head to one side. not sure of the science of it, but it seems to calm down my worry and stress within minutes. see link for a visual:

Apr. 15 2008 02:05 PM
Andrew Dark from Nyack, New York

'Hearts of space' is a program which WNYC has broadcast which spins wonderful mixes of ambient music. I listen to these and find they help me drop off. They have their own website these days.

Apr. 15 2008 02:00 PM
Ingrid Gordon from Jackson Heights, Queens

I had a fantastic experience a few years ago with the sleep disorder clinic at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. They have an extremely knowledgeable staff who took the time to conduct a long interview with me. They quickly and accurately diagnosed my particular problem and offered both behavior modifications and medication. I have never before or since visited any single doctor who has made such a difference to my well-being. I had to pay out of pocked (out of network), but it was worth every penny. Tried to call in but all circuits were busy.

My doctor there was Dr. Tucker, who was supervised by Dr. Cavey.

Apr. 15 2008 01:57 PM
62express from WNYC Radio

How about the connection between sleep and overall health? Our bodies are affected by the perpetual "day light" since the introduction of artificial light - now many sleep deprived generations. This has had a huge impact on our health - weight gain and psychological issues are two key issues. Because we don't go to sleep when it's dark and wake when it's light - our connection to nature and natural sleep habits are disconnected.

Apr. 15 2008 01:56 PM
Rebecca from Grinnell, Iowa

Leonard I cracked up at your board joke!!! Just sayin'.

Apr. 15 2008 01:55 PM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ

I get flem build up in my larynges in my throat. Can this cause sleep apnea?

Apr. 15 2008 01:52 PM
Loretta Morris

Melatonin has changed my life. I used to find it nearly impossible to get to sleep. Now I sleep easily by taking melatonin supplements. You can buy it over the counter quite cheaply. I hope you'll mention this, in case it can help other people.

Apr. 15 2008 01:51 PM
Gary from Long Island

I am curious about the effect of shift work. I used to sleep "like a log" until I worked shift work for an Investment Bank and my sleep was thrown off. I developed hypoglycemia; then I had a weakened immune system which lead to period of illness. Eventually I developed RLS which was discovered after I developed Chronic Fatigue (CFS) from a sleep study. My endocrine system was disrupted as well.

I am wondering what your guest can recommend to reset one's system to eliminate the constant state of exhaustion.

Apr. 15 2008 01:51 PM
Mark from Manhattan

The previous caller is pulled the same thing Dr. Weil etc etc say: It's all the medication, the diet, the caffeine.... Like Ms. Greene suggested, I doubt the validity of these claims for a million reasons. It's simply much easier for an authority figure like a doctor to circumvent dealing with the issue by saying "don't drink coffee too late in the day or at all". Maybe insomnia is the result of a million factors that can be controlled, but as always it's easy for those who don't suffer from it to tell us not to to watch TV and not to turn on the lights in the wee hours....

Apr. 15 2008 01:50 PM
Lois Vierk from West New York, NJ

In the 1980s I took L-tryptophan for insomnia. It helped the insomnia, however it ended up giving me a major autoimmune disease called "eosinophilia myalgia syndrome" (EMS). For me the symptoms are similar to Multiple Sclerosis. It has debilitated me and forced me to give up the work that I love. Some days I have not been able to walk, sometimes I cannot use the computer, etc. due to extreme pain and weaknessw from the L-tryptophan. The cause of the disease seems to be a contamination in the L-tryptophan, however some research points to the possibility that susceptible individuals will get EMS from L-tryptophan alone. In the 1989 EMS epidemic, 40 people died and thousands got sick like me. More EMS cases continue to crop up even today. (My own health story is found online at --click on "personal story".)
I would much rather still have insomnia than this horrible autoimmune disease.

Apr. 15 2008 01:49 PM
robert sullivan from New York

does one always know he/she is not sleeping? my mother, father, and grandmother said they were insomniacs, but slept through a loud beak-in, and a stuck (on) doorbell

Apr. 15 2008 01:47 PM
fred valentine from queens

I often find that when I can't sleep I just lay there and relax and before I know it it is hours later. I know it isn't the sleep that I am used to having but I often feel more rested than if I had not done this.

Apr. 15 2008 01:46 PM
Geoffrey Abrams from NYC

What about melatonin to aid sleep? Are there any non narcotics that can help insomniacs?

Apr. 15 2008 01:45 PM
Ronald Meyer from NYC

I sufferend from insomnia for many years, since childhood. I have found that the best cure is a regualr program of vigourous aerobic exercise. My insomnia is gone.

Apr. 15 2008 01:45 PM
George M. Aronson from Morristown, New Jersey

Ms. Greene mentioned "build-up" of sleeping medications in the body. What harm does this cause? Is there a preferred way to taper off sleep medicines?

A life trauma caused me to start taking sleeping pills (Ambien) for over a year, and now I fear I'm badly "hooked."

Apr. 15 2008 01:45 PM
DP from Crooklyn

I have trouble sleeping because of anxiety about general life issues (money, life goals, achievement, etc). my mind gets on something and I am tossing and turning until 3 AM. It makes life difficult.

Apr. 15 2008 01:44 PM
J from new jersey

would you say that the cause for difficulty falling asleep and the cause for staying a sleep (i.e., not waking up many times) are different? and their treatments?

Apr. 15 2008 01:44 PM
robert sullivan from New York

Does one know he/she is not sleeping? My Mother, father and grandmother all said they were insomniacs, but all slept through a break-in the house and a stuck (on) doorbell.

Apr. 15 2008 01:44 PM
joan from pound ridge ny

I have not been able to sleep since childhood. I am made to feel like a junky as I try to get medication for this problem. I use occassional Ambien or Traznadone(?) which are both effective, but not perfect. They both leave me with headaches, and disorientation in the morning. I do not abuse either substance, but resent the fact that doctors assume I cannot control these drugs or that I don't know my own needs.

Apr. 15 2008 01:43 PM
Amanda from New york

I've had horrible insomnia since becoming pregnant with my first child. Now, any time of of my kids wakes up (at least one of them does every night) I can't go back to sleep for hours...any remedies for middle of the night insomnia?

Apr. 15 2008 01:43 PM
John Gomez from NYC

Has medicinal marihuana been prescribed to treat insomnia, and if so has it worked?

Apr. 15 2008 01:43 PM
Victoria Fuqua from Chappaqua, NY

Have there been any studies on children and insomnia? I have a 7 year old son who has a lot of trouble falling asleep. Typical active boy.

Apr. 15 2008 01:42 PM
Mark from Manhattan

I don't know what to say but I have the same insomnia as your guest. No matter what, I wake up in the wee hours of the morning and have a difficult time getting back to sleep. After I quit smoking I got my doctor to prescribe lunesta for me (I hate taking stuff like that) just so I could sleep on a trip I was taking to Europe. I took it everyday for a week and it helped a little. But there was one time I took 2 tablets and I still couldn't sleep. It's extremely frustrating. I have no idea what to do to fix it. And not drinking the one cup of coffee I have everyday is not the answer, I'm sure!

Apr. 15 2008 01:41 PM
Tom from Soho

We are working with a dmd dentist who believes that much about sleep disorders is caused by improper breathing from minor snoring to severe sleep apnea. He relates lack of sleep to many other lealth issues from blood pressure to diabetes. He fits a device that holds the tongue out of the air passage and keeps the jaw forward. He says he has 90% success with his method. He also says women that snore either lightly or heavily will often have TMJ syndrome or sleep apnea after menopause.

Apr. 15 2008 01:40 PM
Chicago Listener

you may have touched on this, but is there a link between procrastination and insomnia? but putting off things, like my tax return, am i setting myself up for a bad night's sleep?

Apr. 15 2008 01:40 PM
Paul from The Land of Nod

Well, if sleepless tonight I shall be replaying this lady's voice... my head's hitting the desk right now!

Apr. 15 2008 01:38 PM
Gary from Manhattan

The guest is WRONG about EKGs. If you have a sleep study done, the EKG and other testing will be able to identify the sleep problem. I think she doesn't want to find out the cause of her insomnia so she can stay a miserable artist.

Apr. 15 2008 01:35 PM

are you feet cold at night ??

Apr. 15 2008 01:34 PM
N. Berger from Brooklyn

I struggled with the same symptoms Gale describes most of my life. I now sleep (almost) always well with a certain combination of tricks. The most important is to schedule quiet time during the day to allow these thoughts that disturb one at night to come up earlier and deal with them then. Of course, we never have time to allow our personal thoughts to process in our busy schedule but doing that has helped a lot to calm my mind at night.

Apr. 15 2008 01:33 PM
chestinee from Midtown

In France they have clinics for depression where they just knock you out for months on end

Apr. 15 2008 01:32 PM

i love chick flicks too, and when i fall asleep during one, i will hope my 17 winks will go into your overdrawn bank of winks ..

Apr. 15 2008 01:32 PM
Melissa from Manhattan

I find that if I make what my mother called "cambric tea" (not sure of spelling) -- that's basically hot water with milk and honey, that's very soothing. And I'll leaf through recipes... And before I know it, thoughts will have been banished, and I'll be able to fall asleep again...

Apr. 15 2008 01:31 PM
drew from New Jersey

My favorite and most effective tactic is to read a comic book before I go to sleep. It's the perfect length and a quick dose of fantasy that takes my mind off the day, especially if my mind is racing.

Apr. 15 2008 01:31 PM
chestinee from Midtown

I am beginning to suspect sleep apnea - thought it was hormones to start. I use sound technology to sleep, bought the apnea pillow - wear socks, an eye mask, have darkened the room - but still I am tired. I slept soundly as a child - I don't know when I have felt refreshed waking up.

Apr. 15 2008 01:29 PM
Gary from Manhattan

A major sleep disorder that goes mostly undiagnosed is sleep apnea. (In Greek, apnea means “without breath”.) A person with sleep apnea may wake up several times (even hundreds) during the night as a result of not breathing and not realize it. As a result, one wakes up in the morning feeling terrible. There are potentially serious health problems with sleep apnea, including heart failure (Scared yet? You should be).

I thought I had insomnia until I felt so badly I had a sleep study done and was diagnosed with sleep apnea. Remedies include a special mouth guard, a tonsillectomy or a CPAP device, which forces compressed air in the airway (requires a doctor's prescription) via a mask of some type (see I chose CPAP. It doesn’t look cool on, but I sleep great now.

Apr. 15 2008 12:20 PM

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