Insomnia: Some tricks to try and those to skip

You’ve had those long nights of tossing and turning, alternating between staring at the ceiling and watching TV and pretending to sleep; frustration, anxiety, and irritation all building up. Then finally falling asleep only to have your alarm clock go off, and spending your day in a fog of exhaustion, and you can’t wait for sleep again….unfortunately the whole cycle happens again! Insomnia can be fun, and it affects everyone at some point in their lives. There are tons of products out there that claim to help you get a good nights sleep, without causing daytime drowsiness or without becoming “habit-forming” but not all of them work.  And poor sleep can cause some health issues like weight gain, anxiety, and depression. So, what tips/products are worth your time and money, and what should you skip?

bed1. A “nightcap”: a lot of people drink alcohol before bed, and that can help to relax you because it is a depressant, and it might help you to get to sleep, unfortunately, it messes with your REM sleep cycles and you don’t actually get a real nights sleep. Plus, this can definitely become habit-forming.

2. Avoid caffeine: This is a solid tip that you should follow.  Drink your caffeine in the morning to help boost you awake, but stop all caffeine intake after 12p-2pm (depending on your bed time) to allow for the effects to wear off and allow you to fall asleep when you want to.

3. Over-the-counter (OTC) sleeping pills: Most of the “PM” OTC sleeping pills just contain Benadryl (diphenhydramine) which can make you tired and sleep, however, it does cause a morning “hangover” drowsiness and can become habit-forming, plus the sleep cycle is still interrupted, so you don’t wake up feeling refreshed.  Also, if you don’t need to take, for example, Advil, there is no need to take Advil PM, right?

4. Melatonin OTC: It needs to be taken for a couple of weeks until you see the effects, and not all people respond to it.  It is a synthetic version of the naturally occurring hormone that our bodies produce, and most studies show that it is ineffective, however people who use it regularly report much better nights sleep and swear by it. So I think that it is worth a try, just keeping in mind it is not a quick fix.

5. Prescription Sleeping Pills: Between anxiety medications and actual sleeping aids, there are prescriptions available, however they can be habit-forming, and taking anxiety medications long-term isn’t a great idea because when you try to stop taking them, your anxiety can be even worse (yikes!).  Plus, there are side effects with sleeping pills like sleep walking, and doing other things in your sleep, and having absolutely no recollection in the morning. These can be really effective for short-term needs though, and if you are able to get a full 8 hours of sleep at night.

6. Avoid Naps: You might be super tired during the day because you didn’t sleep well last night, but this will negatively effect you sleeping again, because your bodies normal drive for sleep will be altered.  It is better to just dig deep and get through the day, then go to bed early (if you can) rather than take a nap during the day.

7. Aromatherapy: Scents like lavender, sage, jasmine, and vanilla can help lull you to sleep, while not really “proven” scientifically to help make you fall asleep, aromatherapy is very useful with alternative therapies and to help people calm down and get to a restful state. There are pillow and sheet sprays, laundry detergents, candles, etc that can help to get the scent in your bedroom and help to calm your mind.

8. Bed is for sleep (or sex) only: You should avoid spending time in bed when you are awake, and train your body that bed is for sleep only. You can have sex in your bed, but hopefully that won’t last for hours and hours and keep you awake…if it does, then move somewhere a little more exotic (like your couch, or a guest bedroom!) So no reading, no TV, no late night phone calls in bed, just sleep, and your body will start to learn that is a place to relax.

9. Tea: Some sleepy time teas can help to relax you, and get your body ready to tune down to get to sleep. Just make sure that you read the label and that they definitely do not have caffeine in them!

10. Routine: set a routine bedtime and your body will start to adhere to it, and get ready to shut down. Just like you have a routine to shower, get ready for work, etc, have one for bed too!

11. Therapy: If you are riddled with anxiety or stress about life, you may need to make some lifestyle changes, but for the immediate, it can help to work with a therapist, or your Healthcare Practitioner (HCP) to come up with a plan to alleviate stress, os that you are better able to rest your mind and sleep.  Some times a little organization can go a long way in assisting to de-clutter someones mind, and aid in restful sleep

Unfortunately, there is no real quick fix for shutting down and getting restful sleep, but as long as you put your body into a routine, and try to calm yourself as much as possible, you can start to train your body to learn to relax and sleep. It can be a really annoying and frustrating process, but it will come, and aiding the routine with Melatonin and aromatherapy can definitely help. Also, if you think that something else might be going on, like Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) where you have trouble breathing at night, speak to your HCP about diagnosis and treatment! See what works for you, but remember that it takes time to train your body.

Yours in Good Health


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