Harvard Men's Health Watch

Insomnia: Restoring restful sleep

Nearly everyone has spent at least one night lying in bed wishing for sleep. But for many men, it's a nightly struggle. A lucky few get relief from counting sheep, watching late-night movies, or sipping warm milk (or something stronger) — but most people with insomnia need more assistance. Fortunately, lifestyle changes and behavioral treatment can help many sufferers, and medication is available for those who need it.

Normal sleep

Sleep is essential for health, providing rest and restoration for mind and body. But although it's restful, sleep is actually quite complex and busy in its own right.

Sleep is divided into two major phases, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep. Good sleepers fall asleep quickly, usually in less than 15 minutes. They enter non-REM sleep first, moving gradually from light sleep (Stage 1) to deep sleep (Stage 4). During non-REM sleep, the mind slows down. The circulation slows, too, as the heart rate and blood pressure fall. Breathing is slow and steady. The muscles are relaxed, but body movements do occur.

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