Not being able to sleep is its own special kind of Hell. Though if the problem only lasts for a day or two, we can usually muddle through it until exhaustion finally takes over and we get back into our normal routine. But when insomnia becomes a regular issue, people quickly become focused on taking care of the problem, and that generally means a visit to the doctor looking for a quick fix in the form of prescription sleeping pills.
The problem with these pills is that taking them can come with a boatload of side effects, and it isn’t even clear that they work that well. Some studies show that though they may help cut down on the amount of time that it takes for a patient to fall asleep, they actually only add about fifteen minutes worth of sleep per night – hardly worth the problems of becoming dependent upon them or being bleary-eyed and dopey the next morning.
Though there are definitely some instances where sleeping aids are the appropriate solution to a short-lived problem, there may be other options available that work just as well, or even better. Accordig to Dr. Nerina Ranlakhan, a physiologist, sleep and stress management expert with the Nightingale Hospital in the United Kingdom, when her patients come to her for help getting to sleep, she often finds that the problem is as much a lack of confidence in the fact that they are able to sleep as a physical problem. She offers them the solutions below and suggests that they try each in order to help them get a better night of sleep.
- Make eating breakfast a part of your daily routine, and do it within half an hour to forty-five minutes of waking up. She finds that those who don’t eat breakfast on a regular basis have a tendency to skip it because of anxiety – they aren’t hungry because they are tired but their minds are already racing with all that they need to do in the day that lies ahead. She suggests that those who find eating breakfast difficult start small – even a bite of toast with nut butter is better than not eating anything, and can be built up into a normal sized breakfast.
- Start drinking more water during the day. Though drinking too close to bedtime may end up with you going to the bathroom throughout the night, trying to stay on top of hydration earlier in the day is likely to yield sounder sleep.
- Watch your caffeine intake. Many people lose track of how much of the stimulant they are taking in, especially because it is hidden in medications, desserts and other unlikely places. She suggests taking in no more than 200-300 mg of caffeine per day, and none after 3:00 in the afternoon.
- Make sure that you create a sundown for your electronics at least an hour before you go to bed. Just as the setting of the sun is a signal to your body that it is time to manufacture and release melatonin to help make you drowsy, you need to replicate this with the electronic devices that emit the blue light similar to the sun’s rays – otherwise they will work against you and keep you stimulated and alert when you need to be getting ready to go to sleep. One of the best ways to make sure that you aren’t tempted to turn to your tablet or smart phone should you wake up in the middle of the night is to keep them in a faraway spot in your home, such as the kitchen.
- Turn the clock’s face to the wall so that if you wake up in the middle of the night, you can’t tell what time it is. There are many people who get extremely upset when they find that they are up at 3:00 in the morning and end up unable to get back to sleep as a result of the worry that it generates. Avoid the problem entirely and don’t look at the time – just roll over and go back to sleep.
- Try adding a white noise machine o your room, or at the least turn on a fan that will mask sounds that might distract you from getting a good night of sleep. Whether it is the sound of a dog barking outside, your partner’s snoring or a sense that things are simply too quiet, having a constant whirring or humming in the room can make a very big difference in your sleep depth and duration, and may even help to lull you to sleep. In fact, many have become so accustomed to their white noise machine and have associated it so strongly with sleep that the mere sound of it can make them feel drowsy.
- Understanding the right way to breathe can make a very big difference in your ability to fall sleep quickly. By breathing deeply from the lower part of your lungs, inhaling from your belly and exhaling through your mouth, you are likely to be able to improve the speed with which you fall asleep.
- Don’t fight the inability to sleep. If you find yourself up when you don’t want to be, instead of getting stressed about it simply enjoy the fact that you are able to lie quietly and rest. Focus on the positive aspects of resting and embrace it. There’s a good chance that you’ll fall back to sleep if you do this, but even if you don’t you won’t be expending energy and may find yourself enjoying the peace and quiet.
- Spend a few minutes before bed contemplating the things in your life for which you are grateful. There is a fair amount of research indicating that people who are aware of all that is good in their world and who count their blessing are the ones that sleep most deeply.