How to Treat Insomnia: 10 Medication-Free Tips
Difficulty with sleep is one of the most common medical complaints. That's why today, House Call Doctor has 10 medication-free tips to help you catch your Z's. In Part 2 of this series, she'll provide prescription and over-the-counter alternatives.
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Adopt a routine schedule: Try to maintain a regular sleep/wake schedule. That is, sleep at the same time every night and awaken at the same time each morning no matter how sleepy you are. This may be a challenge during the first few nights, but eventually your body will get used to maintaining the same schedule. Do not vary your weekend schedule by more than one hour from your weekday schedule.
Avoid daytime naps: People who nap have more difficulty falling asleep at nighttime. If you can skip your nap, you will find that you will be able to not only fall asleep faster, but will be able to better maintain your sleep during the nighttime.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine is a brain stimulant that interferes with good sleep. Do not drink caffeine past noon, and limit the intake to no more than 1-2 cups a day. Alcohol may seem to initially help you fall asleep more rapidly, however it causes early morning awakenings and difficulty returning to sleep. Additionally, both caffeine and alcohol are diuretics that may cause an urge to urinate in the middle of the night.
Use the bedroom only for bedroom activities: Don’t get into the habit of watching TV, surfing the internet, eating, or performing any other non-bedroom activities in your bed. You want to train your brain into thinking that once you are in bed, it's time to go to sleep. If you routinely engage in other activities in bed, your brain will have more difficulty shutting down at bedtime. Do not use your bed for anything other than sleep and sexual intimacy.
Avoid bedtime high carb snacking: Avoid sugar or carbohydrates within two hours of sleep. If you are hungry, eat small portions of foods that promote sleep such as a glass of warm milk, turkey, or nuts.
Avoid nighttime fluids: Drinking fluids 3 hours prior to sleep causes an urge to urinate in the middle of the night. Try to drink more fluids in the first half of the day and less at nighttime.
Get regular exercise: Routine exercise releases endorphins that decrease stress; this in turn increases deep sleep. Get at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise daily, such as walking, running, or biking. Try to avoid doing this in the evenings, however, as the endorphins can cause brain stimulation if performed within 3 hours of sleep.
Getting to sleep: If you are unable to fall asleep within 30 minutes of laying down, get up and do something relaxing, such as light reading or taking a warm bath. Then go back to bed once you feel sleepy.
Learn to manage the stress: Find a hobby, join a dance class, distract your mind. Learn a few relaxation techniques and do them at bedtime. Consider counseling or therapy, or seek help from your religious congregation. We all experience life stressors, they will never disappear completely. But if you can change how you respond to the stress, you can dramatically improve your sleep.
Put it on paper: If you're a typical Type A personality, then you likely ruminate over everything you need to accomplish in the upcoming day or days at bedtime. If you're Type A, you know who you are: overly driven, high achieving, impatient, rigidly organized, super responsible. My Type A patients tend to have more difficulties with falling asleep. They often say they lay awake at nights thinking of “all the things they have to do.” My advice is to stop keeping yourself awake by thinking of all those to-do lists and instead, get up, put it on paper, and then get back into bed. Sometimes just writing it down helps to shake it all off.
If taking the above steps doesn’t significantly treat your insomnia, then it may be time to discuss the issue with your physician. Getting a good night’s sleep is so important to your overall health. If you are unable to obtain adequate sleep, it can manifest itself physically and emotionally and interfere with your functioning and quality of life.
Although implementing these 10 steps requires some effort, it’s a worthwhile process. It may not happen overnight (no pun intended), however, a good night’s sleep is well worth the effort to change your habits.