Get Relief from your insomnia by tonight
Insomnia is the inability of getting the amount of sleep needed for full rest and recuperation in our daily lives. There is no set amount of sleep required for this, as each individual will be different in their needs. Insomnia is not measured in the number of hours of sleep per night, but rather the amount of continuous, quality sleep per night.
Thus people with insomnia may have difficulty falling and staying asleep, often waking up during the night unable to return to sleep. People suffering insomnia will typically feel tired upon waking. Furthermore, this sleeplessness is a frequent occurrence. Insomnia affects almost two out of three Americans as some point of their lives and 30% of Americans regularly.
Insomnia may be “primary” in that it is not associated with any other health issue, or “secondary”, when it is caused by some other health condition. Secondary insomnia is not likely to be overcome without attention to one’s overall health condition.
This article describes techniques for dealing with insomnia. It is divided up into techniques the individual can perform in their physical environment, such as bedroom or mattress condition. A behavioral section lists activities one may do during the day to reduce or end those sleepless nights some may be regularly experiencing. Much of the problem with insomnia is psychological and a section of this article details types of self-training or behavior change that may help with the problem. The final section deals with medications, both natural and commercial, and their effectiveness and dangers.
Before presenting the above itemized information, rule out actual medical or physical conditions that may control your insomnia. Insufficient sleep may indicate imperfect health as well as lead to future health problems.
For example, people who have a poorly aligned bite or missing teeth can have related health problems including sleep disorders, because their jaw muscles must work harder to bring the teeth together, straining the surrounding jaw muscles and keeping the person awake.
– The bed upon which you sleep should be comfortable. Sleep never comes easily when laying on an uncomfortable surface. Bed mattresses come in different firmnesses, so select one that is “just right” for you.
– The pillow is also a component of your sleeping environment that also comes in varying degrees of softness or hardness. The number of pillows used may also be important in gaining quality sleep.
– Mattresses wear out over time, so replace a worn out mattress. Check for signs of mattress wear at least twice a year.
– Bedroom noise may contribute to the inability to get needed rest. One may not be able to do anything about a bedroom itself on a noisy street, but one may be able to mask the disruptive sounds there by using a “white noise” generator. They are inexpensive and effective. Earplugs may also be helpful.
– Make sure the bedroom is dark and a comfortable temperature. Try using heavy (or blackout) curtains or a sleep mask to control unwanted light. Open a window or turn on a fan or air conditioner, or turn up the heat to obtain your most comfortable temperature while sleeping. Generally a cool temperature is better than a warm one, but personal preferences should be the guide.
– Eliminate the need to use the bathroom during the night, by eliminating caffeine and alcohol or large amounts of water just before bedtime. Caffeine and alcohol can both increase the need for urination during the night and increase sleep disturbances.
– Limit caffeine, alcohol and nicotine in general. Drink no caffeinated beverages at least eight hours before bed. Alcohol can initially make one feel sleepy, but is disruptive to sleep quality by increasing wakefulness during the second half of the sleep period (night). Caffeine and nicotine are also disruptive to sleep and have a 6 to 8 hour long half-life. Note that caffeine may be present in certain prescription and non-prescription dugs.
– Quit smoking or avoid it at night. Cigarettes contain nicotine which is a stimulant.
– Try to be consistent in the times one goes to bed and gets up in the morning. Keep this schedule even on weekends or if you are not tired. This will help keep your biological clock in synch with your activities and help in maintaining your regular sleep rhythm.
– Establish a consistent bedtime routine. This could include a period of reading, taking a warm bath, going for a relaxing walk or practicing meditation or relaxation exercises as part of the normal before bed routine.
– Take a relaxing evening stroll one hour before bed.
– Practice daily breathing exercises to relax. Relax the breath when falling asleep.
– Try to give yourself up to an hour of time in dim light before going to bed at night. One can do this in the bedroom itself or one might wear sunglasses to effectively lower the house lighting without disrupting others sharing the home.
– Avoid large meals late in the evening as the process of digestion can be disruptive to sleep. Your last meal should be no later than 7 p.m.
– Cut Back on Sugar. It gives a short-lived burst of energy but can cause variations in blood sugar levels which can disrupt sleep in the middle of the night when blood sugar levels fall back to normal.
– Eat Foods That Help You Sleep. Carbohydrate snacks such as whole grain crackers as well as foods rich in vitamin B6 found in sunflower seeds and bananas enhances the conversion of tryptophan, the sleep inducing amino acid.
– Eat Magnesium-Rich Foods. Magnesium in mineral form, is a natural sedative. Deficiency of magnesium can result in difficulty sleeping, among other problems. Dark leafy green vegetables, almonds, cashews and whole grains are rich in this mineral. Eat the these items on their own or try juicing dark leafy green vegetables.
– Determine if napping is good for you. There is conflicting information on the value of napping in aiding night sleep. There is general agreement that a short nap of 10 to 20 minutes in the afternoon may help sleeping at night. Long naps during the day are believed by some to be detrimental to night time sleep. Any naps are best taken in a dark room.
– Get plenty of exercise during the day. People who are physically active sleep better than those who are not. Getting at least 45 minutes of aerobic activity every day should make you more ready for sleep come bedtime. This activity should preferably occur early in the day.
Insomnia affects fewer people who practice regular exercise routines. Thirty minutes of moderate daily exercise combined with meditation in the evening has been shown to help people fall asleep and stay asleep. The sleep is also a better quality sleep, as it consists of longer duration R.E.M. sleep.
Note that exercise alone, for some people, is insufficient to overcome insomnia.
– Do not exercise for at least two hours before bed. The added activity will increase respiration and blood circulation making it more difficult to settle down for sleep at bedtime.
– Avoid stimulating activity and stressful situations before bedtime, such as vigorous exercise or heated arguments or discussions. Limit or avoid the use of the TV, computer or video games. Focus instead on more quiet and soothing activities.
– Spend as much time as possible outdoors. This exposes you to bright, natural light. Doing so before ten in the morning, or after three in the afternoon, will reduce the chance of burns if not using sunscreen.
– When waking in the night, try getting up and reading or doing some easy stretching. Taking your mind off any problem it is focusing on can help you fall back to sleep, but can be difficult to do. Don’t try to force yourself to sleep. Tossing and turning only makes sleep more elusive. Get up and leave the bedroom to do something relaxing. When you’re sleepy again, return to bed.
– Don’t sacrifice sleep to do daytime activities. Keep to your scheduled sleep time irrespective of other activities that come up during the day, such as visiting friends, eating out watching TV, etc.. These activities can cut into sleep time throwing off the sleep rhythms of the body.
– Go to bed only when sleepy. This may work against advice concerning keeping to a sleep schedule, but it has been shown to be effective. When you are already sleepy, there is higher likelihood of falling asleep quickly.
– Don’t read from a backlit device such as a laptop computer, iPad or electronic reader. If you use an electronic reader, chose one that is not backlit, which will require an additional light source. One should be able to set the backlight intensity at a very minimal level.
If sleep worries are getting in the way of your ability to unwind at night, the following strategies may help. The goal is to train your body to associate the bed with sleep.
– If an overactive mind is keeping you from falling asleep, try the “Relaxing Breath” or “4-7-8” breathing exercise. It is a simple sequence of exhalations and inhalations on four, seven and eight counts, repeated in cycles. It can be done anywhere but best learned with the back straight. The exercise serves as a sort of natural tranquilizer.
– Meditation and yoga are other good relaxation activities, but also require a bit of practice to be effective. Induce relaxation with a 15-minute meditation by sitting comfortably at the edge of a firm seat with back erect and head tilted slightly downward. Place your arms gently over your lap and breathe slowly, deliberately and gently. Keep your eyes slightly closed.
– Mantram is the practice of repeating over and over in the mind certain syllables, words or phrases that help “unify consciousness” and counteract negative mental states. It is especially helpful for people with restless minds, whose turbulent thoughts keep them from relaxing, concentrating and falling asleep. The repetition of a verbal formula is a way of focusing the thinking mind and counteracting the damage done to both mind and body by thoughts that produce anxiety, agitation and unhappiness.
Don’t practice it while doing something that otherwise requires your undivided attention. Try experimenting with it: choose a word, sound or phrase that is pleasing to you, and repeat it. If your mind wanders, simply focus back on the word.
– Sleep restriction therapy is a behavioral treatment that works to improve your sleep efficiency (the amount of time actually sleeping during the course of the night compared with the hours one should be sleeping) by limiting the amount of time you allow yourself to sleep in bed, thus increasing your desire to sleep. This leads to a consolidation of your sleep, less fitful sleeping, and improved sleep efficiency.
– Hypnosis is a state in which a person is more focused, aware, and open to suggestion. Although how it works is not understood, hypnosis may bring about physiological changes in the body such as decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and alpha wave brain patterns, similar to meditation and other types of deep relaxation.
Several preliminary studies suggest that hypnosis may decrease the time it takes to fall asleep and increase sleep duration and sleep quality.
– Don’t worry about falling asleep. Studies show individuals who do this have greater trouble falling asleep. Turn your mind to other things, while reminding yourself that sleeplessness is only troublesome, but not life threatening.
– Use the bedroom only for sleeping. Don’t work, watch TV or use other electronics there. Train your brain to associate the bedroom for sleep (and sex). Once trained, the bedroom stimulus will send a signal to your brain and body that it is time to sleep (or get romantic).
– Move bedroom clocks out of view. They may distract the mind so one ends up listening and waiting for each clock tick or hand move. This practically guarantees insomnia. Use the clock alarm if it is needed, but don’t position the clock so that it is easy to read at night.
– Keep a journal at night can be therapeutic as well as sleep inducing as reading. Put your thoughts on to paper to unburden your mind of any tensions that may reside within for a return to restful sleep.
Natural and Commercial Sleep Medications
There are no guaranteed natural sleep aids.
– The two best natural sleep aid treatments are valerian and melatonin. Valerian is a sedative herb, used for centuries. You can find standardized extracts in health food stores and pharmacies. Take one to two capsules a half hour before bedtime.
– Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the wake/sleep cycle and other daily biorhythms. Try sublingual tablets (to be placed under the tongue and allowed to dissolve). Take 2.5 mg at bedtime as an occasional dose, making sure that your bedroom is completely dark. A much lower dose, 0.25 to 0.3 mg, is more effective for regular use.
– Drink valerian or passionflower tea before bedtime every night for one month. Valerian in high doses can cause very wild and vivid dreams, blurred vision and excitability.
– Other herbal sleep aids include chamomile taken as a tea, lavender, St. John’s Wort, kava kava and lemon balm. Note that any herbal application may cause allergic reactions for those with plant or pollen allergies.
– Tryptophan and L-tryptophan Tryptophan are basic amino acid used in the formation of the chemical messenger serotonin used in the brain to tell your body to sleep. Some studies have shown that L-tryptophan can help people fall asleep faster but study results have been inconsistent.
– Try Calms Forte Sleep Aid is a homeopathic natural sleep aid in tablet form containing several different types of herbs and plants to help relieve nervous tension and sleeplessness. It is non-habit forming, but only meant to provide temporary relief.
– Prescription sleeping pills can be useful but will disrupt sleep over the long-term. Sedative hypnotic type insomnia drugs can have side effects including, but not limited to headache, nausea, confusion, euphoria, chest pains and rapid heart rate.
– Avoid over-the-counter sleeping pills because some have undesirable side-effects and can lose their effectiveness over time. While sometimes effective, non-prescription insomnia drugs have not been well studied over long term use and are not recommended for use by the AmericanAcademy of Sleep Medicine. They typically contain antihistamines which produce drowsiness by suppressing histamine (which promotes wakefulness).
– Note that prescription and non-prescription sleeping pills suffer from drug tolerance and dependency issue. There may also be interactions between the sleeping pills and other medications. Sleeping pills may mask underlying problems and can even make the insomnia worse than it was before pill use. Be extremely conservative in the use of these medications.
– Aroma therapy has been used as a folk remedy to help people fall asleep. Oil of the English lavender is said to be one of the most soothing “essential oils” and some research claims that lavender essential oil may lengthen total sleep time, increase deep sleep, and help people feel refreshed in the morning. It appears to work better for women, possibly because women tend to have a more acute sense of smell. Try putting a lavender sachet under your pillow or place one to two drops of lavender essential oil in a handkerchief or added to a bath.
Other aromatherapy oils believed to help with sleep are chamomile and ylang ylang.
– Insomnia can be caused by conflicts with medications used to treat colds, asthma, allergies, depression and other conditions. Rule out any of these possible medication conflicts to effectively combat sleeplessness. A physician should always be a part of any sleep medication, even non-prescription type medicines.
– Soak your feet in hot, Epsom salt bath for 15 minutes before bedtime.