Can’t sleep? You aren’t alone.
Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in North America and Europe. One-third of the U.S. population cannot sleep well enough to function efficiently during the day. Some of those suffering from insomnia only have one or two bad nights a week, while some spend countless nights sleeplessly tossing and turning. You wake up feeling miserable, and spend the day fighting exhaustion.
You may be surprised by some simple steps to help get a full night’s sleep:
- Get comfortable. Make sure you have a comfortable bed and a quiet, dark, cool place to sleep. Make sure your pillow is soft yet supportive, and your pajamas aren’t too tight or too big.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol. Although alcohol can make you feel drowsy and may actually put you to sleep, it has the unpleasant side effect of waking you up at night with a headache, stomachache, or full bladder. Caffeine, on the other hand, stimulates your brain. Limit your coffee intake to two cups a day. Starting at noon, consume no foods or beverages that contain caffeine, as it takes several hours to fully evacuate your body.
- Keep a normal schedule. It is very important that people with insomnia keep a strict sleep-wake schedule, even on weekends. If you can’t sleep one night, get up at your usual time the next morning and don’t take any naps. If you nap, you’ll have more trouble getting to sleep the next night, thereby compounding your insomnia.
- Establish a bedtime ritual. When mothers bathe their children or read to them every night before bedtime, they are reinforcing a signal that it’s time to settle down and get ready for sleep. Establishing such a ritual may also be helpful for adults. A hot bath taken two hours before bedtime is a wonderful way to relax your body and make it ready for sleep, but for some people, taking a bath closer to bedtime may be stimulating and may delay sleep.
- Have a bedtime snack. High carbohydrate, low-protein bedtime snacks can make sleeping easier. Carbohydrate-rich foods, like toast, tend to be easy on the tummy and can ease the brain into blissful slumber. Some scientists believe it’s the presence of tryptophan, a chemical that helps the brain ease into sleep mode, that does the trick. Other foods high on the tryptophan scale are cottage cheese, cashews, chicken, turkey, soybeans, and tuna.
- Monitor your melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your biological clock, making it the timekeeper of the body. As you get older, your body makes less melatonin, which experts believe is probably why older folks have more trouble sleeping. As your body’s production decreases, it might be advantageous to try a melatonin supplement.
- Exercise regularly. Many find that aerobic exercise 20-30 minutes a day, plus 20 minutes of yoga, makes falling asleep easier. Plus, physical activity promotes deeper, more restful sleep.
- Keep a sleep journal. There is no one formula for perfect sleep— different things work for different people. The important thing is to give everything a fair and persistent trial (for at least a week or two, not just one night) and see what works best for you. Keep a sleep log, a notebook of what works and what doesn’t. In the same way a food journal can help you discover triggers and allergies, a sleep journal can help you realize patterns in your rest routine.
- No counting sheep. Focusing on how long you’ve been awake and how much sleep you’re losing can be stressful and cause anxiety. Distract yourself with peaceful thoughts to help relax your mind enough to doze off.
- Utilize essential oils. These natural aromas extracted from flowers, leaves, roots, and bark can be used in many different ways to ease many different health ailments. A few ways to use these essential oils at bedtime and ease you into a peaceful sleep are: spritzing your pillow, using a few drops in a hot bath, or mixing with lotion to massage into your skin. Lavender, sandalwood and orange blossom are some essential oils that are particularly helpful for sleep.
There’s no cure-all magic trick to treating insomnia, but the steps outlined here might be the recipe you need for a more restful night.