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Counterfeit Energies

Beyond being chronically sleep and dream deprived, we're deprived of healthy waking. Our failure to descend deeply into sleep and dreams compromises our ability to ascend fully into the waking world, leaving us in a kind of mental daze. The once naturally robust peaks and valleys of our circadian rhythms are in effect flatlining. Half-awake in our sleep and half-asleep in our waking, we're never completely at rest and seldom fully conscious.

To compensate for our sleep- and dream-deprived daze and maintain our frenetic drive, we spike our waking hours with counterfeit energies. We're a society of energy addicts, our lifestyles designed to provide us with quick fixes of stimulants, most notably caffeine and high glycemic, sugary foods on demand, or, more subtly, with dependence on drama-mediated adrenaline. Unfortunately, such energy spikes inevitably backfire with jittery withdrawals. Beyond damaging our waking consciousness, dependence on counterfeit energies damages our nights by disrupting nature's essential rhythm of activity and rest. Our need for rest is met only with a restlessness that conceals an underlying exhaustion.

So we take something for it. Evening appears to be our commonest period of substance and medication use. We consume vast amounts of alcohol, marijuana, antidepressants, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers to modulate our restless waking energies, and, even more, to blunt our uneasy encounter with dusk and darkness. These substances may help us temporarily negotiate our discomfort with night, but only at a terrible cost.

Not only do we fend off darkness at night, we avoid natural light during the day. Evidence suggests that sunlight is naturally stimulating, emotionally uplifting, and potentially healing, but most of us spend the bulk of our waking days indoors, under artificial lights. The average American adult gets about one hour of natural outdoor light exposure per day. Compared to dusk and night, indoor lighting is bright and overstimulating. But in contrast to natural daylight, even on cloudy days, indoor light is relatively dim and understimulating. In the end, we fully experience neither natural light nor natural darkness.

Failed Solutions

Most of my insomnia clients have used sleeping pills, some for many years. Consumers are now being barraged by an unprecedented campaign to promote these hypnotics as the solution to the insomnia epidemic. Nearly 50 million prescriptions for hypnotics were written in the United States in 2006, representing a 15-percent jump in only one year.

But the message in these campaigns—that sleeping pills are a safe, effective, long-term solution to insomnia—is erroneous. Sleeping pills don't provide natural, healthy sleep: they suppress the symptoms of wakefulness with a chemical knockout, providing counterfeit rest. Masking the symptoms of insomnia doesn't yield good sleep any more than masking symptoms of anxiety with alcohol or tranquilizers produces good mental health. When used as a primary treatment for chronic sleeplessness, sleeping pills can undermine our ability to allow sleep to come naturally.

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