Insomnia is a problem that humanity has struggled with since the beginning (it is Latin for “inability to sleep”). Currently it is the most common sleep complaint amongst Americans, affecting between 30-40% of adults. Even if you don’t have chronic insomnia (no sleep for months to a year) you might suffer from acute insomnia, which lasts one to several nights. Or you might just feel tired all of the time and drained of energy (Read: Recharge Now! 15 Ways to Feel Energized).
Reasons for insomnia include: stress (in a variety of forms), depression or anxiety, physical pain, major schedule changes, jet lag, digestive problems, or a sleep disorder. It is crucial that you figure out the underlying cause so that you will know how to treat the problem.
Symptoms for insomnia can include difficulty falling asleep, frequent wake ups, difficulty returning to sleep, waking up too early, and sleep that is not refreshing. Untreated insomnia can led to poor health, increased illness, the inability to do work properly, and an increase in depression.
Here are twelve great ways to overcome your insomnia and get the sleep you need.
- Avoid clock watching. Sometimes a habitual response when you wake up during the night is to check the clock. By always checking the clock you are training your circadian rhythms the wrong way, and this can actually lead to insomnia. If it continues you will find yourself waking up at the exact same time in the middle of the night. This habit may be hard to break, but one easy prevention is to simple turn the clock so that it faces away from you before you go to bed.
- Cut the caffeine. Many people drink coffee to wake up or stay alert throughout the day, but few of them realize just how long the caffeine stays in your system. The average half-life of coffee is five hours, meaning that ten hours after you drink your first cup a quarter of the caffeine will still be in your body. If you must have coffee to survive, it’s best to drink it early in the morning and avoid it later in the day. This also goes for tea, energy drinks, and other beverages high in caffeine.
- Forgo the nightcap. The common assumption is that alcohol is a sleep inducer. It’s pretty easy to pass out after a few stiff drinks, right? Well the sleepiness you feel is only a short-term effect. Alcohol actually interferes with REM sleep cycles and makes you feel more tired the night day. Most alcohol causes 15-25 arousals during the night, you just don’t remember them because you usually aren’t awake long enough. Your best bet is to keep alcohol consumption limited to no later than dinner time.
- Stop smoking before bedtime. Like alcohol, many people relate smoking to feeling relaxed. But in actuality nicotine is a stimulant, and smoking right before you go to sleep will cause you to wake up multiple times during the night (much like the effects of caffeine and alcohol).
- Monitor the late night snacks. Jumbo meals at night will give you trouble when you’re falling asleep. But going to sleep hungry can also cause issues. If you haven’t eaten in a while and think you might get hungry during the night, one thing to do is to eat a light snack that is high in carbohydrates and low in protein. Protein will keep your digestive system rumbling during the night because it requires a lot of energy to digest. However, some people have had luck with foods that contain large amounts of the amino acid L-tryptophan (which can be found in turkey, chicken, and cottage cheese to name a few). Try a few different methods to find out which variation of food works best for you.
- Decrease artificial light. When your eyes register lights during the night it can trick your brain into thinking it’s time to wake up. This in turn causes melatonin (a night time hormone) production to be reduced and instead stimulates daytime hormones. So turn off your TV, laptop, and all other electronic devices about an hour before you go to bed to ensure the best sleep. If it is your custom to watch a movie or Late Night with Jimmy Fallon before bed, at least dim the screen to reduce the artificial light being emitted.
- Exercise earlier rather than later. Exercising stimulates your metabolism and increases your heart rate. If you exercise anywhere from one hour to three hours before you go to bed it can cause restlessness and frequent awakenings during the night. Exercising in the morning, or mid to late afternoon, will allow a better night’s rest.
- Keep a comfortable room temperature. If your bedroom is too warm then your body and brain won’t be able to cool down like they want to. Some kind of fan, either ceiling or otherwise, is a good idea because it will provide a steady breeze and also a constant level of white noise to help you sleep. On the other hand, if your bedroom is too cold then that will also disrupt your sleep. Make sure you’ve established a happy medium before you go to bed.
- Save the tough problems for the morning. Big life problems or worrisome events keep a lot of people awake at night. Try to set aside specific time during the day to think about and deal with these problems so they won’t keep you up at night. You can also try a method of stimulus control where you get up and go to another part of the house when you start to think fretful thoughts. Both of these methods keep the bedroom from being associated with anxiety.
- Utilize relaxation techniques. Methods such as simple yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises will help improve sleep time and the quality of your sleep. Another great technique is called progressive relaxation, where you tense a specific muscle group, slowly relax it, and then tense another muscle group (for example, moving from shoulders, to arms, to legs). The gradual releasing of tension from your muscles will relax your brain and send you to sleep in no time.
- Create your bed as a sanctuary. Your bed should be a place for sleep and for sex – nothing more. When you bring work and other distracting things to bed then it is no longer a place for relaxation and rest in your subconscious. Also, make sure you have the right mattress and pillow. Depending on how you sleep, on your back or side and so forth, different mattresses and pillows will work better for your sleep style. It’s just common sense that if your bed isn’t comfortable, your sleep won’t be either.
- Seek medical help. Many people think they are suffering from sleep deprivation, when in fact they may have a mild case of acute insomnia. Regardless of what you think the issue is, if you have tried these other sleep-inducing techniques and none of them have helped, you should consult a medical professional. A doctor can help identify or rule out various sleeping disorders, as well as notice medications or lifestyle factors that may be affecting your sleep negatively.
Following each of these twelve methods is guaranteed to give you a better night’s sleep. Different methods may have a greater impact on different people, but the end result is that everyone catches the Z’s their bodies and brains need.
Many people think that their sleep issues aren’t a problem and they can still function well enough during the day. The truth is that insomnia in any form, mild or severe, will negatively affect your body over time. Do yourself a favor and don’t end up like Christian Bale from The Machinist.