Ever feel like you can’t turn your brain off to go to sleep? Like you just lay awake and thinks about your day or things you have no control over? Or maybe you can fall asleep at the beginning of the night but then can’t stay asleep. Sound familiar? Well it should, over 15% of US Adults report Insomnia.
Insomnia can be its own problem, called primary insomnia; or it can occur when a person has a number of other conditions, like restless leg syndrome, anxiety or depression. Sleep initiation is the term given to falling asleep, and sleep maintenance is the medical term for staying asleep. Sleep initiation AND maintenance are both crucial to a good nights rest.
So, what can be done about insomnia? Well the good thing is – almost all primary insomnia can be effectively treated with changes in your sleep behaviors. That means changing behaviors and adding in new behaviors can make you get that good night’s sleep! Lets make a list of these behaviors:
- Sleep at the same time every night, wakeup at the same time every morning. This means even on vacations and holidays and weekends, keep your sleep schedule consistent!
- Allow for 7 hours of rest. That means you have to allot 7 hours, not 5 or 6. Sorry – I don’t write the rules, I’m just reporting them.
- If you get in bed and don’t fall asleep, don’t lay there for hours. Give yourself 20 minutes. If you’re not sleeping by then get up, walk around the house, read something and try again in a bit.
- Beds should be used for 2 things only – sleep and sex. That means it’s not your desk, not your picnic table, and not your couch. Train your body to sleep in bed!
- Put down electronics 30 minutes prior to bed. This includes the TV. Turn it off; the lights cause brain stimulation similar to caffeine!
- Exercise early in the day. Exercise daily definitely helps you fall asleep, but exercising right before bed can cause a rush of endorphins, making it hard to sleep. Get your workout in early for ideal sleep.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. I know, I know, I’m no fun. But all of these substances change the chemicals in your brain and make it harder for you to sleep. Remember we’re trying to fix insomnia here. So put down the wine and the cigs. Avoiding fluid altogether can actually help maintain sleep, because you don’t have to get up to pee!
- Avoiding large heavy meals just prior to bed is also crucial. Sure, a light snack is ok but that’s about it.
- Sleep in a cool dark room. Are you ready for some facts: 60’-67’ F is ideal for sleeping. So draw your shades, turn the thermostat down, pull the covers up and prepare for great sleep.
Side note: there are many drugs that cause sleepiness and can help initiate or maintain sleep. These drugs, like Ambien, should be used as little as possible. Like we have learned, good sleep hygiene can really help insomnia, hopefully to the point where prescription sleep aids are not needed. If you feel it’s impossible to fall asleep without an aid try Melatonin, a natural supplement available over the counter. Start with 3 mg nightly and if that isn’t enough try 5 or 6 mg.
Look, it’s not easy to change behaviors and start new habits. If it was we’d all be skinny and fit and run marathons. I get it. Start small and realistic – pick one or two habits that you want to change and work on them. But I promise you; sleep habits really do hold the key to a good nights rest.
TL/DR: Almost all insomnia can be fixed with sleep hygiene. Change your habits, improve your sleep.
I did a little research for this article; the main resource I used was the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Find more info there or speak with your primary care provider if you’re battling insomnia!
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