Do you have trouble falling or staying asleep? If so, you are one of over 100 million Americans who experience some sort of tossing and turning through the night, making insomnia a national health concern.
Luckily, implementing simple lifestyle changes and improving behaviors that contribute to nighttime restlessness can alleviate the symptoms of mild to moderate insomnia.
If sleeplessness persists continuously for more than two weeks, consult your doctor. Insomnia may be a symptom of a serious underlying medical illness.
Tips for better daytime habits
- Expose yourself to bright light/sunlight soon
after awakening. This will help to regulate your body's natural
biological clock. Likewise, try to keep your bedroom dark while you are
sleeping so that the light will not interfere with your rest.
- Exercise early in the day. Twenty to
thirty minutes of exercise every day can help you sleep, but be sure to
exercise in the morning or afternoon. Exercise stimulates the body and
aerobic activity before bedtime may make falling asleep more difficult.
- Check your iron level. Iron deficient
women tend to have more problems sleeping, so if your blood is iron poor, a
supplement might help your health and your ability to sleep.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol. Avoid
drinking caffeinated or alcoholic beverages for several hours before
bedtime. Although alcohol may initially act as a sedative, it can interrupt
normal sleep patterns.
- Don't smoke. Nicotine is a stimulant and
can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Many over-the-counter
and prescription drugs disrupt sleep.
- Do not nap during the day. If you are
having trouble sleeping at night, try not to nap during the day - you will
throw off your body clock and make it even more difficult to sleep at night.
If you are feeling especially tired, and feel as if you absolutely must nap,
be sure to sleep for less than 30 minutes, early in the day.
Tips for a better sleep environment
- Make sure your bed is large enough, and
comfortable. If you are disturbed by a restless bedmate, switch to a
queen- or king-size bed. Test different types of mattresses. Try therapeutic
shaped foam pillows that cradle your neck or extra pillows that help you
sleep on your side. Get comfortable cotton sheets.
- Make your bedroom primarily a place for
sleeping. It is not a good idea to use your bed for paying bills,
doing work, etc. Help your body recognize that this is a place for rest or
- Keep your bedroom peaceful and comfortable.
Make sure your room is well ventilated and the temperature consistent. And
try to keep it quiet. You could use a fan or a "white noise" machine to help
block outside noises.
- Hide your clock. A big, illuminated
digital clock may cause you to focus on the time and make you feel stressed
and anxious. Place your clock so you can't see the time when you are in bed.
Tips for a better pre-sleep ritual
- Keep a regular schedule. Try to go to
bed and wake up at the same time everyday, even on the weekends. Keeping a
regular schedule will help your body expect sleep at the same time each day.
Don’t oversleep to make up for a poor night’s sleep – doing that for even a
couple of days can reset your body clock and make it hard for you to get to
sleep at night.
- Incorporate bedtime rituals. Listening
to soft music, sipping a cup of herbal tea, etc., cues your body that it's
time to slow down and begin to prepare for sleep.
- Relax for a while before going to bed.
Spending quiet time can make falling asleep easier. This may include
meditation, relaxation and/or breathing exercises, or taking a warm bath.
Try listening to recorded relaxation or guided imagery programs.
- Don’t eat a large, heavy meal before bed.
This can cause indigestion and interfere with your normal sleep cycle.
Drinking too much fluid before bed can cause you to get up to urinate. Try
to eat your dinner at least two hours before bedtime.
- Bedtime snacks can help. An amino acid
called tryptophan, found in milk, turkey, and peanuts, helps the brain
produce serotonin, a chemical that helps you relax. Try drinking warm milk
or eating a slice of toast with peanut butter or a bowl of cereal before
bedtime. Plus, the warmth of the food may temporarily increase your body
temperature and the subsequent drop may hasten sleep.
- Jot down all of your concerns and worries.
Anxiety excites the nervous system, so your brain sends messages to the
adrenal glands, making you more alert. Write down your worries and possible
solutions before you go to bed, so you don't need to ruminate in the middle
of the night. A journal or "to do" list may be very helpful in letting you
put away these concerns until the next day when you are fresh.
- Go to sleep when you are sleepy. When
you feel tired, go to bed.
Tips for getting back to sleep
- Try visualization. Focus all your
attention on your toes or visualize walking down an endless stairwell.
Thinking about repetitive or mindless things will help your brain to shut
down and adjust to sleep.
- Get out of bed if unable to sleep. Don’t
lie in bed awake. Go into another room and do something relaxing until you
feel sleepy. Worrying about falling asleep actually keeps many people awake.
- Don't do anything stimulating. Don't
read anything job-related or watch a stimulating TV program (commercials and
news shows tend to be alerting). Don't expose yourself to bright light.
light gives cues to your brain that it is time to wake up.
- Get up and eat some turkey.
contains tryptophan, a major building block for making serotonin, a
neurotransmitter, which sends messages between nerve cells and causes
feelings of sleepiness. Note that L-tryptophan doesn't act on the brain
unless you eat it on an empty stomach with no protein present, so keep some
turkey in the refrigerator for 3am.
- Consider changing your bedtime. If you
are experiencing sleeplessness or insomnia consistently, think about going
to bed later so that the time you spend in bed is spent sleeping. If you are
only getting five hours of sleep at night, figure out what time you need to
get up and subtract five hours (for example, if you want to get up at 6:00
am, go to bed at 1:00 am). This may seem counterproductive and, at first,
you may be depriving yourself of some sleep, but it can help train your body
to sleep consistently while in bed. When you are spending all of your time
in bed sleeping, you can gradually sleep more, by adding 15 minutes at a
Diagnosing And Treating Insomnia
It is important to talk to your doctor if you think you may have insomnia.
To help your doctor help you, keep a sleep diary for a couple weeks before your appointment.
Keep detailed notes on anything that is disturbing your sleep, including things like thoughts or feelings of discomfort.
Tips for keeping a sleep diary
Learn about your sleep patterns and habits by keeping a daily sleep diary.
sample sleep diary or make up your own, and include:
- Time you went to bed and woke up;
- Total sleep hours;
- Quality of sleep;
- Times that you were awake during the night and what you did (e.g. stayed
in bed with eyes closed or got up, had a glass of milk and meditated);
- Amount of caffeine or alcohol you consumed and times of consumption;
- Types of food and drink and times of consumption;
- Feelings - happiness, sadness, stress, anxiety;
- Drugs or medications taken, amounts taken and times of consumption.
There are a variety of treatments used for this condition. First it is important to treat any medical conditions that may be causing the sleep disturbance. If the cause is night sweats you may want to start hormone therapy or an alternative therapy to ease the night sweats.
If there isn't a medical condition look for behaviors that may be disturbing your sleep. For some people drinking alcohol or even caffeinated tea too close to bedtime can cause problems.
Relaxation therapy can help reduce stress and tension in the body before bed. Sleep restriction is another method of treatment. Spending too much time in bed not sleeping can make the insomnia worse, so limiting your time in bed by going to bed later or getting up earlier can help reduce the nervousness caused by laying in bed not sleeping for too long. It is also helpful to restrict your bed for just sleep: this means no reading or watching tv in bed.
Other things that can help include going to bed at the same time each night, getting regular exercise every day and eating at least two to three hours before bed. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet and try to wind down before going to bed.