All of us at some time or another will suffer with insomnia. Usually it lasts a few days and then goes away all by itself. This is particularly true where insomnia is linked to an obvious cause that is a temporary blip in your life - such as the stress caused by a job interview; an exam; a relationship breakdown; or the excitement of an impending holiday or chance to see someone or something that you are really looking forward to. Unfortunately at other times insomnia can be doggedly persistent.
Besides psychological problems such as depression, anxiety and stress, certain medications can be a cause of insomnia. These include cold and flu medications that contain alcohol, pain relievers that contain caffeine, and high blood pressure medications.
In many ways our perception of what insomnia is, is very subjective. What constitutes sufficient sleep for one person may well be completely inadequate for someone else. You'll find that temporary insomnia may involve difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or waking up far too early. Your sleep may be fleeting, you may toss and turn, or you may have a combination of these issues. So what are the best ways to avoid insomnia and get a good night's sleep?
Is Your Bedroom a Desirable Place?
Spend some time making your bedroom inviting. Ensure it is relaxing and calming. Your bedroom should be a place where you sleep and have sex, nothing else, although reading before you sleep is fine and often a good idea. Here are some other useful tips:
- Get rid of any clutter, clean your bedroom well and hide the TV.
- Consider your mattress and pillows: are they still in good order? Make sure that your bedding is the best quality that you can afford, and avoid man-made fibre if you possibly can as these will make you hot and sweaty.
- Do not relax on your bed at any other time than when you go there to sleep. The bed should be associated only with sleeping and not with eating or watching TV.
- Set regular sleeping times and stick to them. It's important that your body knows when and where rest will come. You can train your body to respond to internal cues to become sleepy at a given time and to wake up at a given time. Set a pattern and go to bed and get up at the same time every day – yes, including weekends. Extra sleep and naps will throw your routine into chaos so avoid doing this.
- Try to ensure that your bedroom is quiet and dark by using blinds, and turning off anything that makes a noise. Open a window and keep the room at a cool temperature. You can always add more bedclothes if you feel cold. Fresh air will help to promote sleep.
Food and Drink
Try to avoid drinking caffeine after lunch time as often this takes hours to be released from your bloodstream. Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, chocolate, fizzy drinks and some teas.
Limit or avoid alcohol before bed. Alcohol will disrupt your sleep pattern and ultimately the sleep that you have will be unsatisfying. Cigarette smoking can also worsen insomnia.
It is best to eat light meals in the evening so that your digestion can quickly switch off too. Eating heavily in the evening can disrupt your sleep.
Even if you are unaccustomed to exercise, try taking some during the day. Exercise will promote good sleep. However, don't exercise strenuously right before bedtime. Good exercise for relaxation includes walking, yoga and tai chi.
Consider Your Circadian Rhythms
All living beings, including humans, animals and plants, naturally live by circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms consist of a 24 hour physiological cycle that is controlled by environmental cues such as sunlight and temperature.
Circadian rhythms are important because they determine when we should eat and sleep. Our pattern for waking during the day when it is light and sleeping at night when it is dark is a completely natural part of human life.
Your brain naturally produces melatonin to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle and this is controlled by light exposure. If you don't get enough natural light during the day your brain will feel sleepy. Too much artificial light at night suppresses the production of melatonin and makes it harder to sleep. You should therefore make sure you access natural light during the day and limit artificial light at night. Keep the lights low.
Set up a 'winding down' schedule for yourself in the evening after your supper. Do something that calms you and that you enjoy – this could be reading, listening to music, relaxing in a bath, or watching a film. Avoid anything that you might find stimulating – things such as horror films, computer games or political discussions on television, or strenuous exercise. You might want to try meditation or relaxation exercises that can quieten your mind and help you let go of stress and negativity. There are numerous downloads, CDs and DVDs available via the Internet that can introduce you to these techniques.
You'll find many dietary and herbal supplements in the shops that claim to promote sleep. Many of these are described as 'natural'. Be careful because some of these will have side effects or they may interfere with any drugs that you already take. If your symptoms persist, always contact your doctor.
Cuddle. Human contact is a very basic need. If you do sleep with a partner have him or her stroke your back soothingly as you try to drop off. This will touch something very primordial within you and you will find yourself calm and relaxed. If you don't have a partner, revisit childhood pleasures and try taking a teddy bear to bed with you.
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