Trouble Falling Asleep? Here Are 4 Tips to Beat Your Insomnia
February 21, 2020
Sleep patterns vary from person to person, and it can be quite common to struggle to get a full night of sleep, especially when we are restless from busy school schedules, anxious about responsibilities at work, or depressed due to relationship pains. Some medical conditions, like sleep apnea, physical injuries like neck pain, or food intake-- such as drinking too much coffee before bed-- can also interrupt our bodies natural sleep cycle.
The National Center for Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health says that about 30-40% of adults have some symptoms of insomnia within a given year, and about 10-15 percent of adults have chronic insomnia. However, while bouts of short term insomnia may be a nuisance to some, lasting for only a few days or weeks, chronic insomnia can be a real issue when it comes to our everyday lives.
According to the Mayo Clinic, adults still need on average between seven to eight hours of quality sleep a night. Anything less can cause a number of concerning problems, including slower reaction times while operating vehicles which increases risk of accidents, and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Varied sleep patterns have also been found to increase metabolic disorders in a newly published study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). According to the report, those unable to stick to a regular bedtime and wake up schedule are at a 27% greater chance of experiencing a metabolic abnormality, such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and hypertension.
With so many health risks that come from lack of sleep (or sleep schedule), it's important to know what options are available if you or a loved one are experiencing intense bouts of insomnia.
1. Work It Out
Not only can exercise make you feel better about your body, but it can positively affect your sleeping habits
When it comes to your sleep, exercising can mean the difference between a night of restlessness and a sweet, deep slumber. “We have solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality,” says Charlene Gamaldo, M.D., medical director of Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital.
According to Dr. Gamaldo, exercise can help decompress the mind and initiate cognitive processes that are critical for us to naturally transition to sleep. The Sleep Foundation agrees, citing a study that shows how exercise significantly improves the sleep of people with chronic insomnia.
In another study cited by the foundation, it was found that a bout of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as walking, reduced the time it took study participants to fall asleep and increased sleep time. Adults with insomnia also found that continuous exercise after 4 to 24 weeks of exercise decreased their chances of experiencing insomnia and had better quality sleep.
HopkinsMedicin.org tells us that aerobic exercise causes the body to release endorphins to keep us awake during physical activity and, as night approaches, our system is washed of these chemicals, allowing us to “wind down” and feel tired more easily. Exercise also raises our core temperature to wake the body up. This helps our body to facilitate sleepiness once we cool down and temperatures fall back to normal levels.
The Sleep Foundation also states that if you don’t exercise, you might not only have trouble sleeping at night, but might be the sleepiest during the day and have a much higher risk of developing sleep apnea. In addition, less time sitting (fewer than 8 hours a day) has been shown to improve sleep quality.
The evidence is clear: if possible, get up and move throughout the day to better your chances of a good night’s rest.
2. Manage Your Diet
Exercise can be helpful, but it’s important to know that if you aren’t eating right your sleep can suffer.
We’ve all been told fruits and veggies are our friends. But eating right isn’t just about watching our figure. What we consume during the day or close to bedtime can have a serious impact on how we sleep and for how long.
For example, a diet low in fiber and high in saturated fats can decrease the amount of deep, uninterrupted shut eye you get-- eating sugar has the same effect, and can even keep you up altogether. Choosing when to eat also has an effect on your sleep, since eating food close to your bedtime can start the digestive process and keep you up well into the night.
Most nutritionists and sleep specialists also advise insomnia sufferers to eliminate alcohol and stimulants like caffeine. “Alcohol may have a sedative effect for the first few hours following consumption, but it can then lead to frequent arousals and a non-restful night's sleep,” says WebMD.
When it comes to having a healthy diet best suited for quality sleep, vitamin B is going to be your best friend. Low fat proteins like fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy are all incredibly good for you and are high in Vitamin B, which has been shown to help control melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep cycles.
Eating well also has an added benefit of potentially causing you to lose weight, which is just another tip to sleeping better, since a reduction in body fat can help you struggle less with problems like sleep apnea and insomnia.
3. Pharmaceutical Solutions
Sometimes lifestyle changes aren’t enough, so a pharmaceutical option might be the best option for some insomnia suffers
In some instances, when insomnia is so severe and immediate lifestyle changes are not possible, medication may be prescribed by doctors to help sufferers fall asleep fast and stay asleep. A variety of prescription sleeps exist, so it’s important to consult your physician or medical professional to find out what works best for you and your current insomnia situation.
Sleeping pills, or hypnotics (or sedatives) promote or extend sleep and are used to calm the user down at night. Benzodiazepines are also a popular classification of prescription sleep aids, however, “Benzos” are more risky to take, due to their high potential for addiction and dependence.
More commonly prescribed are drugs like Ambien (zolpidem tartrate), Lunesta (eszopiclone), and Silenor (doxepin), all of which should not be taken unless you are able to get a full night of sleep (roughly 7 to 8 hours). Some other sleep aids include Restoril (temazepam), Sonata (zaleplon), and Desyrel (trazodone).
Sleeping pills do have side effects, and it’s important to take the recommended dosage, and always make sure you take them as close to your bed time as possible while avoiding operating any kind of motor vehicle.
Side effects often include dizziness, lightheadedness, headache, diarrhea and nausea, prolonged drowsiness, memory loss, or allergic reactions. Side effects do vary from drug to drug, so make sure your doctor informs you on what to look out for.
If prescription drugs are not for you, your doctor may recommend trying over the counter sleep aids, such as Tylenol PM, Advil PM, or ZzzQuil. Non pharmaceutical sleep remedies are also an option, such as taking Melatonin, which is a hormone that occurs naturally in the body to help regulate our sleep cycle. And studies have shown that taking melatonin pills assists in letting your body know its night time and allows you to relax-- meaning, it won’t knock you out or make you feel groggy in the morning.
4. Alternative Insomnia Treatments
When it comes to treating insomnia, looking for solutions outside of pharmaceutical care could just be the cure.
So you tried running, eating broccoli, and getting a sleep aid prescription, but your insomnia won’t let up. What do you do now? For some, seeking help from psychologists and therapy specialists is a major step in the right direction.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is sometimes seen as an effective way to not only recognize destructive or unhealthy thought patterns, but also allow you to change beliefs and behaviors that affect your ability to fall asleep regularly. CBT for insomnia is described by the Mayo Clinic as being a “structured program” that helps patients “overcome the underlying causes of your sleep problems.”
Some CBT-I techniques include partial sleep deprivation to make you more asleep once you get to bed, stimulus control therapy to help condition your mind to embrace sleep, learning how to improve your sleeping environment to better promote tiredness and calm, and (quite paradoxically) resisting sleep altogether to help allow you to let go of the anxiety surrounding your insomnia.
The most productive approach may be a combination of these techniques, or patients may seek alternative therapies, such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS, a non-invasive, FDA-approved treatment for depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
Using magnetic pulses-- sort of like an MRI machine-- TMS therapy stimulates parts of the brain that regulates our mood to encourage it to form new neural connections and alleviate symptoms.
Recent studies have shown that TMS is effective in treating patients with chronic insomnia, demonstrating improved sleep and a decrease in depression. One study even suggested that disturbed intracortical excitability was the primary cause for insomnia in the brain, and that TMS inhibits the “hyperarousal state of the cerebral cortex.”
In other words, TMS settles the brain down enough to allow insomnia suffers to relax and sleep soundly. Cool, right? For those just looking to catch some serious z’s, TMS can be a serious and effective option to treat insomnia, and so much more.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Sleep!
Maybe Insomnia is a new issue for you. Or maybe you’ve been dealing with sleepless nights since you were young and are just fed up with your brain not knowing when to just shut off.
No matter the situation, it is important to know that treatments for insomnia are available, and that no one has to be left suffering in the dark.
For more information about causes, side effects, and treatments, visit the Sleep Foundation’s Insomnia Hub. You can never be too well read on the subject-- and in fact, knowing more about why you can’t sleep might help take away some of your anxiety!