What is insomnia? Well, if you’re one of the many Americans who can’t sleep at night and find yourself unable to stay asleep or have trouble falling asleep, that is a good indication you may have insomnia. A good night’s sleep is nature’s best medicine. But unfortunately, many Americans find it difficult to get their six to eight hours of shut-eye. The problem with sleeplessness is that it gets worse as one grows older.
There are many reasons why this happens, so it is a good idea to get an understanding of the causes of insomnia and the symptoms of insomnia, before we discuss natural sleep remedies and tips for better sleep.
Causes of insomnia
While there are many reasons why a person can’t fall asleep, scientists have zeroed-in on three main causes for sleep loss:
- Your internal sleep clock is broken!
In the good old days, when the sun went down most people went to sleep. But because of the easy access to the entertainment industry via television and computers, our natural sleep cycles have been interrupted, and our body’s internal sleep clock is broken.
- Your mind is racing.
Life today is more hectic, with higher levels of stress and greater anxiety than ever in history. The media does a good job of funneling all the world’s troubles into your brains daily, and by the time night comes, your mind is racing to the point of keeping you awake.
- Your body is working against you.
These days, we live a lot longer than our ancestors did. While this is good, we have to deal with problems of an aging body – aching, creaky joints, restless leg syndrome, aches and twinges, muscle stiffness and general weariness. These seem to further magnify when you lay down at night, so it’s harder for your body and muscles to relax and sleep.
Symptoms of insomnia
You may think you are getting the sleep you need, but insomnia can slip in quietly so it’s best to be aware of its symptoms. In fact, if you keep getting up during the night, get up too early, don’t feel rested after a night’s rest, or have daytime sleepiness, you already are a victim of insomnia.
There are other seemingly unrelated symptoms that could be an indication that you are not sleeping well: Symptoms like
- Frequent irritability
- Depression or anxiety
- Diminishing memory
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Increased errors and accidents
- Tension headaches
- Even digestive problems
To get the required sleep you need night after night, you need to have a well-planned strategy that works for you. You need to avoid common enemies of sleep and try out different sleep-promoting techniques, to find out what works best for you. Remember, the key, or secret, is to experiment. What works for some might not work as well for others.
Natural remedies for staying asleep
Sleep better tip No. 1: Keep a regular sleep schedule
An important strategy to achieve good sleep is setting your body clock. If you go to bed and get up at the same time each day, you will feel much more refreshed and energized than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times. Try achieving consistency by:
- Setting a regular bedtime. Choose a time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. If you find yourself getting sleepy way before your bedtime, do something mildly stimulating to avoid falling asleep. If you need to change your bedtime, help your body adjust by making small changes, such as 15 minutes earlier or later.
- Wake up at the same time every day. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. Once you know what your waking time is, try not to break this routine on weekends when it may be tempting to stay up late.
- Nap to make up for lost sleep. If you need to make up for a few lost hours, opt for a daytime nap rather than sleeping late. If you must nap, do it in the early afternoon, and limit it to 30 minutes.
Sleep better tip No. 2: Manage your melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced naturally by your body to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin production depends on light exposure. The less light, the more melatonin. The trick is to be more exposed to light during the day and less exposed to light during the night.
Spending long days cooped up in an office away from natural light can impact your daytime wakefulness and make your brain sleepy. Also, the bright lights at night – especially from the TV or computer screen – can slow down the melatonin production in your body and make it difficult for you to sleep. To ensure you get more light during the day and less during the night, here are some things you could do:
- Remove your sunglasses during the day to let light onto your face.
- Spend more time outdoors. Try to take your work breaks outside in sunlight, exercise outside, or walk your dog during the day instead of at night.
- Make your home or workspace bright during the day. Keep curtains and blinds open during the day, and try to move your desk closer to the window.
- Move your TV and computer out of your bedroom. Many people use the television to fall asleep or relax at the end of the day, and this is a mistake.
- Don’t read from a back-lit device at night. If you use a portable electronic device to read, use an eReader that is not back-lit.
- Make sure your bedroom is dark. The darker it is, the better you’ll sleep. Use heavy curtains or shades to block light from windows, or try a sleep mask to cover your eyes.
Sleep better tip No. 3: Create a sleep atmosphere
Your bedroom is not your living room, so please don’t treat it like one. And please don’t take your work to bed with you. Reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex and nothing else. A peaceful bedtime atmosphere sends a powerful signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down and let go of the day’s stresses. You can create an ideal sleep atmosphere by:
- Keeping noise down. Sometimes it’s difficult to eliminate noises that are beyond your control, like the sounds of barking dogs, city traffic or loud neighbors. In these situations, mask the irritant sounds with soothing music, a metronome, or you could even buy a special sound machine that lulls you to sleep (you can get one for as little as $20). Earplugs may also help.
- Controlling room temperature. A bedroom that is too hot or too cold can interfere with quality sleep. Most people sleep best in a slightly cool room (around 65 degrees Fahrenheit) with adequate ventilation.
- Getting a comfortable bed. Your bed should have enough room to stretch and turn comfortably. And your mattress and pillows should be just right to give the right support your body needs without exerting unnecessary pressure.
Alone with these three tips, you can make a few lifestyle changes, especially in your eating habits to help you sleep better. Doing regular exercise has been proven to help fight sleeplessness, so you might want to exercise to sleep right. And when it comes to dinner, have it early, and avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of bedtime. Fatty foods take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and may keep you up.
Also cut down your intake of alcohol and other fluids at least two hours before you sleep. This way, you can empty your bladder just before you sleep and sleep uninterrupted.
And for all you avid smokers, just Google, “caffeine and smoking associated to insomnia,” and you‘ll know why I recommend staying away from artificial stimulants to sleep better.
To conclude, let me borrow a phrase from a famous poem. The poet writes…“I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep.”
Thankfully, you don’t have miles to go before you sleep. Just a few steps to take.