Having Problems Falling Asleep or Staying Asleep? Here are 8 Effective Insomnia Treatments
Lately I have been waking up in the morning not feeling at all well-rested. I’ll sleep for hours at a time, but it’s such a restless and fitful sleep that I do not feel my brain and body have had the time or opportunity to raise energy for the day ahead. I know I am not the only one feeling this way, as I have heard from family and friends that it took them hours to even fall asleep, and then once they did finally, they woke up several times throughout the night. Does this sound familiar to you? Do you wonder why you can’t just fall asleep when your head hits the pillow after an exhausting day? I know I do.
There are many reasons for this fitful insomnia, and it is surely not caused by the same source for everyone who suffers from it. Some people suffer from neck pain or have a partner that won't stop snoring. Others, myself included, feel that they cannot turn their brains off at night, because of anxiety and stress. This keeps us from being able to relax and fall into a comfortable and long-lasting sleep. Maybe we are thinking about our schedule for the next day, or where we hope to be in our careers in a few years, or maybe we’re even agonizing over something we would have done differently a few hours ago. Stress and anxiety are not new to this generation, but sometimes it seems as if they have made it even harder to disconnect from a modern day.
I have tried a few simple things to get myself to get a better night’s sleep. My phone tells me to put the screen on “Night Mode,” which presents the images and text on the screen in colors on the warmer end of the spectrum, rather than the brightly contrasted black and white that is typical of default settings, or “Day Mode.” I’ve stopped eating close to when I go to bed, as I have heard that this makes it harder to fall asleep as well as being bad for digestion. After trying these “tricks,” I still find it difficult to clear my mind and subsequently fall into a deep sleep. I know I’m not the only one suffering in this way, so I wanted to share insomnia treatments that have proven to be effective.
Don't Look at the Clock or Phone
This one is really simple. I find myself constantly looking at the time on my alarm clock or phone when I am trying to fall asleep. I’m trying to keep track of exactly how much sleep I will get if I fall asleep at that particular time. Of course, this means I’m not actually able to fall asleep, because I’m too busy checking the time and then worrying that I won’t fall asleep in the next few minutes.
I’m often disappointed when I see how much time has passed with me lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep. It truly bums me out to see the wee hours of the morning reflected on my clock, because I start to lose hope that I will ever fall asleep at a decent hour. I know I need to stop worrying so much, because that only makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
It is best to keep alarm clocks facing away from you, and to have your phone on the other side of the room, out of reach. This will make you less likely to be constantly checking the time and keeping yourself from focusing on falling asleep. Yes, this is easier said than done, because we are so attached to our phones these days. I have found myself wanting to just check “one more thing,” before I once again attempt to fall asleep.
I have become prisoner to my own need to be up to date on all social media, even when I know I’m probably not missing anything by trying to get some shut-eye. I definitely need to work on being away from my phone when I’m in bed. I’m no longer going to keep my phone charger on my nightstand. It can charge across the room, where I won’t be so tempted to pick it up every few minutes out of boredom or restlessness.
Cut Out Caffeine Before Bed
Here’s another no-brainer. We know that caffeine gives us the boost we need in the morning, but we definitely do not want that boost of energy right before we try to go to sleep. Try not to drink soda or coffee past early afternoon, because it will stay in your system well into the evening and keep you from getting that much needed rest.
Some of us are so used to having coffee throughout the entire workday, but we really should just have a cup or two in the morning to give us that kick we need, and then power through the rest of the day. As I said, caffeine will stay in your system for hours, so there is no need to keep drinking caffeinated drinks well into the day. Instead, have some water. It’s good for you! And it won’t keep you awake at night! In fact, being well-hydrated could really only help you stay asleep longer, because your body will have the fuel it needs to keep you contently resting.
I know what you’re thinking: but if I drink too much water, won’t I have to wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom? This is a possibility, but as long as you don’t drink anything closer than an hour to bedtime, you should be fine!
Avoid Napping During the Day
I think this one is going to give me the most trouble. Because I have such a hard time getting a good night’s sleep, I tend to get very tired in the middle of the day, like when I first get home from work. I feel exhausted and almost always want to take a nap. This nap tends to turn into a three-hour affair, which of course flips my sleeping schedule on its head.
How am I supposed to sleep a full night when I have just had a lengthy nap a couple of hours earlier? Exactly. I can’t! I know I am doing this to myself, yet it is so difficult to break the cycle. Do you find yourself taking naps during the day as well? Try to cut them out of your routine. After a few days, you probably won’t even miss them.
The trick to avoiding naps is to keep yourself active. I find myself feeling my most tired when I am sitting around doing nothing. Because I am lounging around, my brain isn’t working very hard, and it figures it’s about time to get ready for bed. If I keep myself busy, I am way less likely to think about how tired I feel, so I won’t feel the need to take a nap.
Honestly, I know most of the time when I get drowsy in the middle of the day, it’s simply out of boredom. As long as I keep working, I won’t feel so sleepy. Try getting some exercise rather than sitting around reading or watching television, because activity that requires intense visual focus will make your eyes tired and you’ll end up taking an accidental nap you don’t need.
Establish a Routine
As cliché as it sounds, it is important to get your mind and body used to a regular routine. Even on the weekends, you should be accustomed to going to bed and waking up at about the same time every day. This way your body will know when it is time to go to sleep, and it will start getting ready to shut down at this time. You will get used to waking up when you have had a full night’s rest, and your brain will thank you for the established routine. I’m sure you already know how easy it is to fall into a harmful routine, such as going to bed too late or eating too much before bed, but it can be just as easy to transform these routines into healthier ones.
Although you may currently be set in one routine for the weekdays and another for the weekends, try to merge these two routines into one. It is much easier to get your brain used to just one set of procedures and times rather than two differing ones. I know I tend to sleep in a couple extra hours on the weekends, but I am trying to be better about this, because I know it makes my weekday wake-ups that much harder.
If I am not accustomed to sleeping during those late morning hours, then I won’t be as tempted to hit that snooze button when my alarm goes of on Monday. Even if I don’t have to be at work on the weekends, I do have things to do, and it is important that I get my day started at about the same time as I would during the week. Do you also find yourself struggling to get up on Mondays because you’ve just had two lovely days of sleeping in? Try to gradually merge these two differing wake up times into ones closer together, until you are starting to feel readier to wake up when that weekday alarm goes off.
Adjust the Lighting
This technique works in two opposite ways. First, it is important to go outside during the day so your body knows this is daytime, and this when you should be awake. Insomnia is very psychological, so it makes sense that insomnia treatments would be as well. Let your body and mind know when it’s time to be awake, when the sun is out and the sky is light. The birds are chirping and are wide awake, so you should be, too.
On the other hand, your body also needs a hint when it is time to decompress and wind down for bedtime. Start dimming the lighting in your home about a half hour before bed, so that when it is time to actually turn of all the lights and actually shut your eyes, it will not be such a shocking contrast to the bright lights of the day. Slowly get your eyes used to the darkening space, and they will be readier to shut out all light when you lay your head down.
Make sure you are sleeping in a dark place. Turn of that overhead light. Close those blinds so they block out any bright streetlights or lights coming from your neighbors’ house. If just the blinds aren’t doing the trick, close the curtains as well. It is easy to find shades that purposefully block out the sunlight. However, keep in mind that having shades block out all the light may make it a little trickier to wake up in the morning, because your body won’t know that it’s daytime. Consider what is more difficult for you, falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning. If the answer is both, I suggest closing the blinds but having light-colored curtains that don’t block out absolutely all the sunlight in the morning.
Don't Force Yourself to Sleep If You're Not Ready
Sometimes you really aren’t tired and you are just trying to get yourself to go to bed early. I know if I have a big day coming up, I will want to get myself to bed early so I have the chance to fit in a full night’s sleep and be ready to face the day. However, I just can’t always make myself fall asleep, and this increases my frustration and makes it even harder to turn off my brain and sleep.
Rather than trying to stay in bed for hours trying to fall asleep, it is better to get out of the bedroom and do something else. Sit in a new environment and read a book or take a relaxing bath. Give your mind a chance to focus on something other than just trying to fall asleep. Doing a calming activity will relieve your stress and probably make you sleepy enough to try going to sleep again in 20 minutes.
Keep in mind these activities should not include browsing social media or playing games on your phone, because these will tell your mind it is time to wake up. Remember how important it is to stay away from screens when you are trying to shut off your brain. Don’t do anything too stimulating. Stick to quiet, relaxing activities and keep the lights dim so your eyes are still in nighttime mode.
Consider Buying a New Mattress
I know you aren’t dying to hear that you may have to spend some extra money to rid yourself of insomnia, but if nothing else works, there is a very good chance your bed is the problem. Maybe you have a lumpy mattress that hurts your back and prevents you from getting your much-needed rest.
Or perhaps your mattress is so old that you sink into it and struggle to even roll onto your other side in the middle of the night. I have struggled on both sides of the spectrum. For a year I even slept on an air mattress to save some money, and let me tell you, that was not the answer to a good night’s sleep. I constantly had to re-inflate the mattress when air would leak out of it. I now see that a good mattress is absolutely worth the price you pay.
Buying a new mattress can be daunting, but it is a crucial investment. Your spine (and the rest of your body) will thank you in the long run. The price of a mattress may take a while to pay off, but you can rest easy knowing that whole time you will be, well, resting easy. You will able to fall asleep faster and sleep for longer amounts of time if you are comfortable on your mattress rather than twisting and turning to find that one almost comfortable spot in your decades-old mattress.
Do What Works for You
Our insomnia is all caused by different conditions and stressors, so one technique will not fix everyone’s sleeping problems. Some of us need to focus on ridding ourselves of extra anxiety, while others should just focus on eliminating that evening coffee.
There is not one cure for all insomniacs, just as there is not one cause for all sleeping problems. I wanted to explore several different roots to insomnia and provide what I consider mostly simple fixes that everyone can try for themselves.
Hopefully one of these techniques will help you to get a better night’s sleep. If you still find yourself struggling to feel well-rested after trying everything, consider talking to a doctor about your persistent sleep problems. Insomnia is an incredibly prevalent disorder, but it does not need to be. There is help out there for all of us who struggle with it.