Dr. Jose Colon, M.D., M.P.H., is the author of 'The Sleep Diet, A Novel Approach to Insomnia,' available at amazon.com
Dr. Jose Colon, M.D., M.P.H., is the author of 'The Sleep Diet, A Novel Approach to Insomnia,' available at amazon.com

Insomnia is common. Insomnia is experienced in about 40 percent of the industrialized population. And 90 percent of people have had a bout of insomnia during life-stress events, the other 10 percent are in denial. Denial? Like the pot belly guy at the gym that walks by a mirror, sucks in his belly, and gives himself a thumbs up.

Why is insomnia so common? The answer can be clearly be found in cave art.

Cave art? Yes, insomnia is common because we come from cavemen. Regardless of whether you believe in evolution or if you believe we came from a ribmy wife makes great ribsnobody can deny there is art in the walls of caves. And therein lies the answer to the beast of insomnia.

The caveman that survived didn’t exactly stop and smell the roses. Our ancestors had to out live the sabertooth tiger and dinosaurs. One in 10 cavemen ancestors died a barbaric death, and life expectancy was about 20 years. The cavemen that survived were agitated and anxious. Constantly thinking there was a tiger in the bush today would lead to senseless anxiety, but to the caveman this hyper-vigilant state led to survival. Constant agitation at others today may lead to road-rage (or cyber-rage), but to the caveman the short temper that led to barbaric violence would allow their offspring to live.

There was once cave art depicting a caveman that actually did stop and smell the roses, but in the next scene a sabertooth tiger chomped his head off. There was another cave art depicting a caveman meditating in a lotus position in an open field, but in the next scene a T-Rex chomped his head off. Okay... this is a mild dramatization. What exactly does cave art depict? Google it. Seriously. You’ll see spears, animals, and war. You’ll see a male hunter holding a spear with both hands over his head as if he was holding a Super Bowl trophy.

But there are also hands depicted in cave art. Does this mean cavemen were willing to give each other a helping hand? Not so fast. First note that many of the hands are missing fingers or have shortened fingers. Signs of frostbite or injury. Also note that some have patterns. Single lines crossing an animal was said to represent a spear. Parallel lines were said to represent an animal's mane, and rectangular grids were said to depict an animal trap. Barbaric and violent, the caveman that survived this world was anxious and irritatedand from that, my friends, comes the genetics of modern humanity.

What does agitation and anxiety have to do with insomnia? Everything! Just as you have a heart rate, we also have a brain rate. I like to describe our brain rate as our level of alertness. If you are agitated, what does your heart do? It races. What does your mind do? It becomes more alert with racing thoughts. Same with anxiety. An anxious heart can race to a chest pain that may result in an ER visit. This is incompatible with sleep. Think dreams. Have you ever had a dream that you are walking and you miss a step? Everybody I know has woken up from this with a pounding chest. To date I’ve never met anyone who has finished the dream, where they fall, crack their head, and then are waiting for hours in the ER during season.

If you’re in bed and you're agitated that you're not asleep, what does that do to your heart and mind? Bingo! Anxiety and alertness. If you’re in bed and you’re anxious that you’re going to be tired the next day, what does that do to your heart and mind? Bingo! Agitation and alertness. This vicious feedback loop has been brought to you by the beast of insomnia.

My five-year-old son once asked me on the way home if we could watch the news. I told him no because it was too violent, and instead we would watch Power Rangers. Our caveman predisposition towards anxiety and agitation explains why our minds have such affinity towards the negative. If 10 great things happen to you and just one bad thing happens to you in the course of a day... which one do you think you’re going to take to bed with you? In journalism they have a saying, “if it bleeds it leads,” which is why the news generally starts with something that captures the attention of the negative. This is where I commend the Santiva Chronicle for instead always having the beauty of our forest (the SWFL community) available to our little birds (see prior commentary).

I’ve depicted quite a negative picture of the caveman. There are two sides to every story. My friend Brian once told me the flip side of the coin of fear is faith. The flipside of the caveman is that over the years the brain has evolved into a social organ. Humanity has developed communication beyond the capacity of other animals. The caveman was wired to survive, and in that wiring was the development of love and nurturing that formed villages. Humanity evolved to where it took a village to raise and nurture a child. Love and kindness has evolved into a beautiful trait of humanity that would keep the villages together and nurture the upbringing of our next generation. And that is also where we now face a fork in the road in modern society where villages no longer stay together due to planes, trains, and automobiles. The touch between friends and family that releases hormones of oxytocin that builds bonding is being replaced by social media communication. Fear not my friends. There are ways to build happiness and to beat the stress of modern society. Follow the Santiva Chronicle and The Sleep Guy for up-to-date tips on sleep health and general health topics.

Encourage others to encourage others.

- Jose Colon, M.D., MPH