When you have a bad night’s sleep, it can really make a mess of your day. But if you have a few bad nights of sleep in a row, it is cause for stress and worry. When tossing and turning and trying desperately to fall asleep has become routine, it’s time to take a look at what might be causing the problem, because once insomnia becomes chronic it is hard to treat, in large part because you end up worrying so much about it. Most people tend to think immediately of sleeping pills as a way to solve the issue, but that’s not always the best answer.
Having a bad sleep night once or twice every few months is really not something to worry about, but if sleepless nights become a regular occurrence then you need to address the situation. Not only does sleep deprivation make you feel bad, it can also wreak havoc with your health and your performance at work, school, or your other responsibilities. It can lead to drowsy driving, a leading cause of vehicular accidents, and interfere with your ability to remember, learn and think clearly.
Though your doctor can help, there may be things that you can do on your own, without having to make an appointment or take any kind of medication. Sleeplessness is generally treated in one of three ways: by changing your diet and behavior, by turning to over-the counter or herbal remedies, and finally, through prescription medicines.
The changes that you can make to your behavior are many, and can work wonders for those who simply need to restore themselves to a normal sleep pattern. Staying away from caffeinated beverages and foods such as coffee, tea and colas may seem obvious, but most people don’t realize how extensive that adjustment needs to be. Caffeine has a half life of several hours, and that means that you may need to stop taking it in as early as noon or two o’clock in the afternoon if you are particularly sensitive. If you are a smoker, keep in mind that the nicotine in your cigarettes (and e-cigarettes) is likely contributing to your sleeplessness, as it is a powerful stimulant.
Alcohol is a sedative, but actually can end up being a stimulant too. Though it makes you fall asleep more quickly, that sleep is not sound. It can actually cause you to awaken a few hours after you’ve fallen asleep, and then to have a tough time getting back to snoozing.
Eating late at night may feel comforting, but it puts your digestive system into overdrive. Not only does it feel uncomfortable, but when your body is working that hard, it is not getting the rest that it needs.
Other changes you can make have to do with your bedtime routine. Try to go to bed at the same time every night, and establish some nighttime routines that serve as cues to your brain that it is time to turn things off and get some rest. These can include shutting off electronics, turning to a book (preferably paper, as e—books can cast blue light that keeps your brain stimulated), having a cup of herbal tea, or taking a warm bath. Do these things every night before going to bed and your body will learn to respond to them quickly.
Avoid taking naps during the day, and think about trying yoga, meditation or getting some exercise. All of these have been proven to help you fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night.
In addition to behavioral changes, there are many herbal and nonprescription sleep aids that can be helpful. Taking magnesium at the proper dose can help you fall asleep by relaxing the muscles, and valerian has been used for hundreds of years to provide relief from anxiety and insomnia. Some people turn to antihistamines, but you should always be aware that these may make you feel groggy in the morning. Aromatics such as lavender and chamomile can help you to fall asleep, and there are a number of teas available that contain sleep-inducing herbs. Finally, melatonin is one of the most popular supplements for insomnia today. Melatonin is produced in the body in response to the rising and setting of the sun, but it is available as a supplement and can work wonders if taken at the proper dose. People find it particularly helpful in the treatment of jet lag.
Prescription medications can be extremely effective for those who are unable to treat their insomnia successfully through these other methods, but they should not be taken for an extended period of time, and those who use them need to be aware of the various side effects that each one carries. There are generally two different types of sleeping pills – benzodiazepines and non-benzo diazepines. Benzodiazepines generally relieve anxiety and make you sleep, but because they have such a strong anesthetic impact they carry certain concerns. The drugs act as a sort of anesthesia, and though some only last a short amount of time, others may stay in the body for an extended period of time, causing unclear thinking when you awake in the morning. The drugs can also be addictive, and people who stop taking them can experience symptoms of withdrawal. Some can cause problems with memory or unclear thinking.
The non-benzodiazepines have a different type of action, and may simply help you to fall asleep, but there are questions as to whether the sleep that you get while taking them is the restorative sleep that is needed.
The most successful treatment for insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy, a series of therapeutic sessions in which psychologists are able to help patients to identify the cause of their insomnia and provide them with tools to get beyond their stress, anxiety, and the things that are keeping them awake.