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What Are Your Tips for Beating Insomnia and Sleeping Better?

8/14/2009 8:55:56 AM

Tags: insomnia, sleep, question to readers

Sleeping meerkatIt seems that almost everyone has trouble sleeping from time to time — and for those with chronic sleep problems, it can get pretty painful. At some point several years ago, I unwittingly embarked on a four-year string of fitful or all-out sleepless nights. And when I really dug in to figuring it out, it easily took a year before I started experiencing full nights of sleep night after night. Once I got a taste of falling asleep within a few minutes, sleeping straight through to morning, waking up ready to go and enjoying (relishing) an entire day feeling alert and energized, I was hooked. The tricks and tweaks that work for me aren't exciting or new, but now that I know what it feels like to be well-rested on a regular basis, I have become fiercely protective of my nights. Which may be rule No. 1 in getting a good night's sleep: Once you know what works for you, stick with it.

For anyone who's curious, the staid, tried-and-true tricks that worked for me are outlined below. Please note that when I was tinkering with my sleep, I just made a list of ideas that seemed to have potential and then adjusted (or ditched, in some cases) them until I found a system that worked for me. These are ideas I came across in reading or just thought to try, and in no way should they be construed as medical advice. An insomnia-addled editor whose greatest expertise swings from website optimization to 19th-century literature hardly qualifies as a medical expert. There are five points in bold, in no particular order.

No caffeine after lunch. For the first couple of years, I stuck with this vigilantly, but one afternoon, feeling dangerous, I decided to risk some green tea and discovered that it, as well as white tea, is perfectly safe sleep-wise; though I still call it quits on any non-herbal tea by about five o'clock. 

Everyone has a different caffeine tolerance, and if you've been drinking a pot of double-strength brew every day since your 12th birthday, I would definitely recommend gradually cutting back rather than going cold turkey. I've never been that into hyper-caffeination, but some of my coffee-junkie friends become noticeably less pleasant if they go too long between cups — and that's just from being off by a couple hours. Another warning: Though never in the pot-a-day club, I used to drink far more caffeine, and having cut back, am now much more attuned to its effect on my system. One mug of full-strength coffee just about puts me over the edge (this is actually physically uncomfortable), and anything beyond that makes my brain jig around just thinking about it.

*I've also noticed that having a glass of wine or other alcohol right before sleep pretty much guarantees that I'll be waking up every few hours. However, sticking with one glass and wrapping up 90 minutes or so before bed seems to be enough to ward off any ill effects.

Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This is a biggie, and by far one of the least titillating (especially for a 27-year-old). Everyone has a different schedule, both work-wise and biologically, but with a traditional 8-to-5 gig, I'm in bed by 10 p.m. and up about 6:30 a.m. I'm usually asleep within 20 minutes or so (and sometimes get under the covers a little before my revised turn-into-a-pumpkin hour), so I clock pretty close to eight hours every single night.

This is challenging in two ways. First: Saturday mornings! But experience has shown that if I play lady of leisure and doze past 7:30 a.m., I’ll be wide awake come 10 p.m. and a vicious cycle will have begun. On weekend mornings when “regular sleep schedule” isn’t that enticing, I lure myself out of bed with the promise of a chai latte at the local coffee shop. Works every time.

Second, getting home at 6:30 p.m. and going to bed at 10 p.m. leaves precious little time for the rest of my life. The few times I’ve stayed up because I just couldn’t make myself put down a book, I’ve been fairly miserable the next day, and outright trollish around 3 p.m. However, how you spend your time is key. It’s probably all in my head, but I’ve noticed that the occasional exception for a good evening with great people (be it dinner or anything else) has almost zero negative effects. Maybe it’s the residual buzz from being with my favorite people, but the next day is always fine (though rolling in at midnight a few times a week would quickly put an end to that — I’d be dozing right about the time business starts in California).

Quiet your brain. This one takes the most practice (even after you’re getting good at it), but has wicked wonderful effects, from better sleep to better focus during waking hours and being a calmer, happier person in general. This is also the item that you would probably need the most help with in learning how to do it, either from books or some kind of practice (such as meditation). This simple (not easy) practice will help you be master of your thoughts and turn them off when it’s time to sleep — which is important, because it’s darn near impossible to drift off when dozens of lists, worries and ideas are zipping around your gray matter at warp speed.

Personally, my Iyengar yoga practice has been by far the biggest help for me in learning how to wrangle all that mental noise into submission. And don’t trick yourself into thinking you’ve got it down and get lazy. I’ve been consciously practicing for three years and still have weeks where I fall off the wagon, and it’s always work to get back into mental shape. The more you practice, the better you get, and if you find after making progress that you’ve suddenly gone backwards, it’s a good sign that it’s time to reinvigorate your efforts.

Exercise outside. Long brisk walks around the neighborhood hills are better than any sleeping pill (OK, I avoid all pills unless it’s just ridiculous not to take them, but I’d still wager this is true). They mean time outside, time unplugged, and they burn all that fifth-gear energy that bristles in first gear all day while I sit at my desk. More important for this post, though, is that regularly getting outside and doing something physical makes for a great crash at bedtime. Maybe Frisbee golf is your passion or you’re doing serious physical work around your farm, but there’s something about fresh air and physically wearing yourself out that makes sleep particularly sound and sweet.

Cut the sugar and other processed foods. There might be some great physiological explanation for this, but this post is getting long enough already, so the quick and dirty is that for some reason, cutting sugar, refined carbohydrates and other processed foods — in general and especially after 5 p.m. — seems to help me sleep better. It could be as simple as the fact that doing this makes you feel better overall anyway, which just helps your sleep that much more. I also wouldn't be surprised to find that the effect on your blood sugar is key, but really don’t know. I do know that wolfing down a candy bar or potato chips (no, organic junk food is not exempt) as a late-night snack doesn’t do me any favors once it’s time for lights out.

Finally, a few simple sleep environment tips: Making the bedroom as dark as possible is a huge help — no distracting lights, plus a full darkness that's a good cue to go to sleep and makes the sunrise an effective cue to wake up. Another trick is only using the bed for going to bed. Doing work in bed just dilutes the effect of being in bed as a cue to go to sleep. Finally, for me, keeping work and all electronics (minus a cell phone for an alarm) out of the bedroom is key. Just seeing a stack of papers, calculator, computer or television makes me feel like I should be doing something other than sleeping, and they're constant reminders (staring at you while you're trying to nod off) that there are always things that can be done. Remember that when it's time to sleep, the only thing that needs to happen is sleep, and that's where your attention should be.

I’m sure that some of you have figured out your own tricks for kicking insomnia or just sleeping better in general — what are they? Share your ideas, tried and pending, in the comments section below.

Photo by Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr Creative Commons 

 

 



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Post a comment below.

 

Aastha Mehra
10/9/2013 6:53:12 AM
Its an informative article here. You can also read at: http://loss-of-weight-allegiance.com/sleep-apnea-symptoms-sleeping-disorders-symptoms-of/

J in IA_1
9/15/2010 8:51:30 PM
I make a homemade tea with 50/50 chamomile and lavendar. I've found it to be very effective.

Sara_16
8/31/2010 9:49:17 PM
Can't get to sleep or stay that way? We have found the most amazing help. It sounds impossible and looks a bit funny but it WORKS every time. Take a look at www.EFTUniverse.com. You will find the emotional freedom technique explained and demonstrated. It uses the energy meridians and selected accupressure points to change the energy flow in your body, to still your mind from the day's stress and within a minute or two, you are sleepy and sleep comfortably thereafter. Can't hurt to try and it truely is surprising how effective it is!

David Sherrod
8/31/2010 1:33:48 PM
No one is talking about it and every one does it. Masterbation. Everyone know it's the best sleeping pill ever and no one is saying it. It's a sociatal denial en mass dramma that puzzles me in my old age. Social denial is as comman as a cold. Oh well. Three drops of lavendar oil on a cue tip swab into the nose will put you to sleep with in five minutes. I've used it many time. Drinking Milk will make you snore even more and likely wake up with a sore throte from your rear pallet flapping up agains the back of your throte.

Laura_45
8/31/2010 8:44:08 AM
I need sound to distract my busy mind. I have some relaxation CD's I purchased to enhance sleep and dreams that work better than anything, but an appropriate ambient, minimalist or new age CD would work as well.

Maribeau
8/30/2010 11:57:07 PM
Unfortunately, I have yet to see much that works for folks in my background, swing shift work where our schedule switches from 12hr days to 12hr nights each week. And no, switching jobs isn't an option if I want to eat.

Lee Bahney
8/30/2010 9:01:07 PM
I've had a great deal of insomnia which started about 40 years ago when I found out my favorite uncle stole my inheritance. I wanted revenge and would think all kinds of evil thoughts about him. When I forgave him, I had peace but still had some problems with sleep. Now, I read the Bible usually before I go to bed and listen to it on CD. It give me peace of mind and I have been sleeping better than I've ever slept.

"Auntie" Adrian_1
8/30/2010 3:01:27 PM
I have several tricks I use on my insomnia, but they don't always work. Once in a while I do resort to a prescription sleep aid. I take a shower, visualizing all the worry, stress, and problems of the day as a black film on my skin, and wash them away with the soap. Often that is enough to let me sleep. If I have something I'm chasing my tail with and not finding a solution, I know it's worry - which is a waste of time and energy. Worry never changed or solved anything. If "my problem" is another person, I give thanks for their existence and ask to learn any lessons they can teach me. Then I commend them to the Divine so they are not "my problem" anymore. If the problem is something I may potentially be able to solve, I ask for the answer in my dreams from my sub-consciousness or from the Divinity I have chosen. Mentally saying a soothing repetitive prayer and counting the repetitions on my fingers works for me sometimes. If my brain just will not give up, getting up and doing something with no relationship to what my brain is saying often works. I scrub the stove, or go out and see how many constellations I can pick out, or watch the rain on the window in the streetlight - anything that is "mindless" and not what I've been chewing on while trying to sleep. On hot nights (I don't have AC) I'll sometimes take a shower in hot water so the air feels cooler. When it's hot, I always have a fan moving the air over me. If cold feet are the problem, I use a Hot Hands warmer

Niyati
9/17/2009 6:01:31 AM
I read your whole article and I loved your article. Yoga today is very important in people’s life. It keeps people healthy. Yoga and Meditation are effective and a natural treatment for insomnia. And I have some good yoga tips at http://www.jiyohealthy.com/category/stress/ which will help u.

Bill_68
9/6/2009 9:07:49 PM
I found a pretty good herbal solution to my sleeping problems on Natural Health Bistro. I take one or two Lemon Balm (Melissa Officianalis) about an hour before bed and I sleep pretty well.

Elizabeth_31
9/2/2009 8:02:36 AM
I must agree with you Eric; however, sometimes this can cause an increased heart rate (at least for me it does and occassionally makes my insomnia worse). Some individuals do not enjoy this method for treating their insomnia or would never admit to trying it. Melatonin works great and so does Valerian Root (especially for anxiety); which is much better for you than taking a benzo (or other prescribed med). According to a lot of the online patient reviews; prescribed sleep meds can cause withdrawals far worse than any of the other prescribed medications (pain, CNS, etc.). That is enough to scare me away from taking them long term. As for me, I will be keeping it all natural and doing as Eric suggested (when available) followed by the Valerian Root and a hot bath. Ahhh, just the thought relaxes me.

kaylaenglelewis@me.com_2
8/31/2009 11:51:32 AM
All the tips above are helpful to me. I have always been a "night person", but for practical reasons, I try to adhere to a "day schedule". If I do allow myself to stay up late, I only do it when I can take a nap (I work from home), although this does put me into a later schedule. Although I am hesitant to take herbs that are unregulated, I have found that Melatonin is very helpful. Just having it in my house keeps me calm, because I know it is there if I need it. So, I don't have that cycle where the fear of insomnia takes on a life of its own and causes insomnia. But, if I take 3, sometimes 5mg, I get sleepy about 20 minutes later, just like a "normal" day person! It is a great feeling. I wish I had had Melatonin in my earlier days!

htrd37
8/28/2009 3:35:48 PM
I used to not be able to sleep well and woke up frequently. Some things that will put a person to sleep fast is chammomile tea- soak for 5-15 min depending on strength needed or valerian capsules work well(both for occasional use). What works well for long term use is the calc/mag/zinc combo before bed. Also adding selenium at bedtime helps too. Of course a dark cool room, regular bedtime, and a bath work good too.

shanna
8/24/2009 3:29:39 PM
A hot bath and a glass of wine, or since i'm pregnant a warm mug of milk does wonders. also lavender and chamomile tea with no sugar. invest in a window unit a/c to keep the room at a good sleeping temp, around 65 degrees, they'll actually cut your electric bill down instead of running the big a/c all night. for the clock watchers, put the alarm clock face down. calculating how much sleep youll be getting when youre wide awake at 2am does not help you to get back to sleep. make the snorer roll over! that usually staves off the snoring just long enoough to get back to sleep. i'm in law enforcement so we work crazy rotating 12 hours schedules and insomnia usually strikes at the least convenient time. there's no such thing as going to bed and waking up at the same time every day so i have a variety of tricks up my sleeve.

Eric_24
8/21/2009 4:09:35 PM
Simple. Smoke a joint. Indica strains are the best for sleeping.

MT Mi Mi
8/19/2009 2:52:45 PM
My solution was to stop turning on lights after dark. I use candles and olive oil lamps instead. It's funny to me that I can still watch TV or use my computer, but the normal house lighting will either keep me awake longer, or I'll wake up at 4 am, and be unable to return to sleep. It's worth not being able to read myself to sleep.

Chris_57
8/18/2009 3:39:17 PM
One thing that helped me (although it was expensive) was getting rid of my old, nasty mattress. It was well beyond the 16 years old and made me so sore I would wake up each night. Also, chammomile tea or any herbal hot tea helps to relax me so I can unwind.

gardengirl_2
8/18/2009 7:38:48 AM
Going to bed and waking at the same time each day works wonders. Especially if you can manage a 10:30 bedtime. I also swear by magnesium a half-hour before bed.

Mary_79
8/17/2009 10:54:39 PM
I am 56 years old and have suffered with insomnia for 30+ years. I never eat caffeine in any form at any time of day. I never take naps - that is the kiss of death. I go to bed at the same time every day and get up at the same time regardless of how much sleep I have had. Keeping to a sleep schedule is very important. I have used sleeping pills in the past but I don't use them any more. Recently I was given some great advise by a retired Physician that I met in a Vitamin World store. He advised me to take a vitamin that has changed my sleep habits for the better. It's called Chelated Calcium Magnesium Zinc. I have tried other brands but the one sold by Vitamin World works the best for me. I take 3-4 tablets with water about 30 minutes before bedtime and I sleep quite well almost every night. I will try Iyengar yoga and see if I can get myself permanently taken care of before I'm 65!

Elizabeth_27
8/17/2009 8:37:01 PM
I find that relaxing in bed with a good book is a great way to get ready to sleep. No work books - pure escapism. Much more relaxing than TV. Physical activity outdoors is great, but when the winters get down to 40 below (celcius) it's not always an option - the local leisure centre is good then. On the rare occasion that I can't sleep I use one of a number of options: hot milk with honey, chai, chamomile tea, valerian, passionflower, catnip, labrador tea... One thing that I've noticed about sleepless nights: the more I fret about it the worse it is. It may be hard at first, but embrace that time as an opportunity to relax in other ways (again, no work). Take the time to enjoy the quiet time: look at the stars, enjoy the quiet, read a book (keep the light level as low as possible), take a bath by candlelight, listen to quiet relaxing music, or meditate. Whatever works for you.

claire_3
8/17/2009 2:37:13 PM
Quality daily exercise and Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Extra tea, with valerian.

Mom&BabyChiro
8/17/2009 2:27:11 PM
I agree with most of the author's suggestions. For me, however, it is not drinking any caffeinated beverages at all. It has made a huge difference in how well I sleep, as well as how alert I am when I'm awake! For the most part, I'm not tired during the day, and I get tired around 10pm which is my regular bedtime (I do stay up later and sleep in a bit on occasion, but don't notice it affecting my sleep cycle much unless I start doing it more than once a week or so).

COBeeMan_1
8/17/2009 10:10:24 AM
Eating two teaspoons of honey no more than 20 minutes before bed helps me fall asleep and improves the quality of my sleep as well. This works for 80-90% of the people to whom I mention it. It has something to do with the fructose in honey fueling the liver, and the liver having several functions at night that help with sleep, healing, and weight loss. Check out http://www.isoactive.com/hd/honey.htm or http://ezinearticles.com/?Hibernation-Honey-Diet&id=443881, or search for "hibernation diet" on the internet for more information.

thebeadedlily
8/15/2009 12:42:06 PM
Milk or calcium right before bed. No staring at the clock-- instead if I can't sleep I think about ow comfy I am there in the dark and quiet. I also use earplugs to shut out the noise of everyone who doesn't go to bed when I do;)










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