Having a night or two of unrest is uncomfortable enough as it is, but ongoing sleeplessness is painful, and ultimately damaging to your mind and body. Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in Europe and North America, affecting 1/3 of the United States’ inhabitants alone. Those who have insomnia have difficulty falling asleep, remaining asleep, or both. Consequently, they may not get enough sleep, or theirs is lacking in quality.
Insomnia may be acute or chronic, lasting for short increments of time or resulting in perpetual restlessness. Acute, or short-term, insomnia usually lasts for days or weeks, stemming from environmental factors like troubles at home, work-related stress, or a traumatic experience. Chronic insomnia persists for a month or more, and is typically a symptom or side effect of another factor. When this occurs, it is called secondary insomnia, like when a person cannot sleep because of certain medications, medical problems, substances, or sleep disorders. Primary insomnia is less common, and is is a separate sleep disorder in and of itself. This disorder can have multiple causes, such as long-term stress and emotional strain.
Many health problems and imbalances occur when people don’t get adequate sleep. Insomnia can result in fatigue, weakness, and being tired during the day. It may also increase anxiety, irritability, and/or depression. The ability to concentrate, process and learn information, and use your memory are often hindered. These can obviously impact performance at work or school as a result. Even more risky is the potential of falling asleep at the wheel or driving when drowsy, ending up in a car accident.
Insomnia can be treated with sleep medications, but more of those are proving more damaging than beneficial, having serious side effects. The FDA just lowered the dose of popular sleep aid Ambien in January for multiple reasons, including the large pile of complaints they’ve receive regarding next-day drowsiness and close calls with car accidents. There are many natural ways to find relief, and we suggest you try a few, or all of the above until you find the right one to get you sleeping sound and feeling better.
How to Treat Insomnia at Home
Change Your Sleeping Environment
Sleeping in an uncomfortable position or on a bad mattress can contribute to restlessness. Loud noises from the street or your neighbors can also be disruptive. If you are unable to relax and get completely comfortable in your own bed, you can buy a new mattress, sleep in a less noisy room, or wear earplugs at night. The National Sleep Foundation suggests you sleep in a room that is dark, noiseless or quiet, comfortable, and set to a cool temperature.
Start a Routine
Making a regular bedtime routine may help you fall asleep more easily and stay asleep. Indulge in a warm bath or shower, take a calming walk, practice relaxation exercises, or make a decaffeinated tea to establish a balanced, consistent close to the night. In this consistent behavior, you will also want to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – even on the weekends.
Exercising in the daytime has been linked to better sleep, according to various studies. Those who are more physically active sleep much better than those who are not. Expending more energy during the day (the earlier the better) will result in higher quality sleep, as you will feel more tired by bedtime.
Cut Down on the Beverages
Reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, especially close to bedtime, can help you sleep more effectively, as well as reduce stress. Limiting coffee to two 8 oz cups per day, and ending your caffeine intake at noon (including chocolate or other foods containing caffeine) allows your brain and body to wind down for the night. As a depressant, alcohol makes you initially drowsy until its effects wear off, likely cause you to wake up later with head or stomach pain or a full bladder. Once you get up, it is much more difficult to go back to sleep.
In addition to drinks, it is also recommended to avoid eating late in the day or at night, as this provides your body more energy.
Obsessive thoughts over not being able to sleep can actually cause a worse night’s sleep. Research has shown that those who continually dwell on not being able to sleep or worry about it often have more difficulty falling asleep. Remind yourself that losing sleep is not a life-threatening problem, and you can fix it, if that helps.
Being outdoors and getting a healthy amount of natural sunlight is essential to creating natural daytime energy and falling asleep better at night. If you are fair-skinned or worried about the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays, go out around ten in the morning or after three in the afternoon, and wear sunscreen and UV protective clothing.
Take a Power Nap
Though naps sometimes get mixed reviews for throwing off your sleep cycle, taking a 10-20 minute nap in the afternoon on a regular basis are healthy, according to Andrew Weil, M.D. Try to locate a darkened room in which to fall asleep when possible.
Dim the Lights at Night
Up to an hour before you fall asleep, avoid bright lights, including the LEDs from your computer, television, or phone. Reduce the amount of light in your home and bedroom, and if the others who live with you don’t agree, put on sunglasses.
Natural Sleep Aids
Valerian root has been used to help people fall asleep for centuries due to its sedative effects. Taking one to two capsules 30 minutes before bedtime is recommended. Another supplement you can try is melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleeping/waking cycle and other biorhythms experienced every day. Dr. Weil recommends taking sublingual tablets (dissolved under the tongue) at 2.5 mg at bedtime for periodic use, and ensuring the room is entirely dark. For regular use, taking 0.25 to 0.3 mg is suggested and safe.
1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is Insomnia?
2. Andrew Weil, M.D. Natural Cures for Insomnia.
3. Discovery Health. 10 Home Remedies for Insomnia.
4. Image: Favim.com