Insomnia Solutions: 8 Tips for Better Sleep

Insomnia Solutions: 8 Tips for Better Sleep

By Tracy R. Nasca Published at July 21, 2011 Views 12,137 Comments 1 Likes 9

Anyone who has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep has used a search engine to find sleep tips or sleep hygiene lists. More often than not, they offer the same old, same old suggestions: use a proper mattress and pillow, avoid stimulants like caffeine or nicotine, avoid eating, drinking and exercise too close to bed time, maintain a cool and dark sleeping environment.

This is all good common sense advice. But if you suffer with any form of insomnia, such as I do, these common sense tips are a nice place to start, but I want and need more! Challenged with sleep onset insomnia, the following are my favorite tips for better sleep that I have learned along the way. I hope you will find them effective.

How does one decide what time to go to bed?

There is nothing worse than lying in bed wide awake and counting sheep, or the rotations of your ceiling fan blades out of boredom or desperation. Go to bed too early and you lay there twiddling your thumbs. Go to bed too late and you perpetuate the insomnia. Either way, you are compromising your circadian rhythm, your body clock. Resetting that clock is part of the challenge of breaking the insomnia cycle and finding healthy restorative sleep.

My goal is to get at least 6 hours of sleep, better to have more; but when one is in a bout of insomnia, 6 hours feels like an incredible gift. So, I establish the time I want to wake up and then count back 7-9 hours to determine my lights out-bedtime. Those 3 extra hours help if I should have trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep. Even if I have a fitful night, I try to establish and keep the same lights-out bedtime on each consecutive night during my insomnia bout.

Prepare for sleep

  1. Allow 2 hours before lights out to prepare for sleep. I don’t want to get in bed until I am as relaxed and ready for sleep as possible.

  2. Surround yourself in low light; consider changing to low watt light bulbs in your bedroom or pre-sleep rooms. Bright light tells the brain "wakefulness," low light tells the brain, "time to start shutting down to prepare for sleep." This is a very important step, so take a look around your house and consider your lighting. For example, we usually have very bright light in our bathrooms. Most of us use the bathroom facility one last time before we get in bed, and so you don’t want to be in that room with glaring bright light.  Add a night light for use during the 2 hour prepare for sleep time frame.  

  3. Take this relaxation time to rid thoughts of “what I did today, what I have to do tomorrow”. Use this relaxation time wisely. Allow nothing stimulating to the brain such as TV, computer, loud music or other outside distractions.  You might find soft background music relaxing. My preference is soft lilting instrumental music (without vocals). You might like the various relaxation CDs that play sounds of rain or wind or other soothing renditions of nature.  

  4. To help with relaxation, I find deep breathing effective. I sit in a comfortable chair, in low light, and breath in deeply and then exhale slowly all the while ridding my thoughts of “what I did today, what I have to do tomorrow”. I close my eyes, and starting with my head and neck, relax all of my muscles to let the body go limp all the way down to my toes.

  5. After winding down and when feeling relaxed, take a hot shower or bath. In the early sleep stages, the body temperature naturally lowers—so raising the body temperature by taking a hot shower or bath can be sleep promoting. Let this be the last thing you do before slipping in to bed for sleep.

  6. Turn your alarm clock away from view; you don’t want to create anxiety by constantly looking at the time slipping away. If I am not able to fall asleep within 30 minutes to an hour, I get out of bed and repeat my ritual of preparing for sleep. Again, I sit in my favorite chair, in the dark or in very low light such as a night light. I repeat the deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises until I feel ready to get back in bed to sleep. Before I knew better, when my eyes would just not close, I resigned myself that I would not be able to sleep. Not one to waste time, I became the midnight housecleaning super woman. Can you think of anything noisier and stimulating than vacuuming or steam cleaning carpets in the wee hours of the morning? What was I thinking…..I wasn’t. I might turn on the TV and watch infomercials or old movies or get on my computer and surf the net. I did not realize that this stimulation of the brain was perpetuating my insomnia and assuring that indeed, I would NOT be able to sleep. I became my own worst enemy.

  7. Avoid alcohol at bed time. Many people drink wine or use alcohol to help them fall asleep.  If your doctor has approved your use of alcohol, it should be avoided 4-6 hours before bedtime. As a depressant that slows brain activity, alcohol may initially make you tired, but you will end up having fragmented sleep. In addition, being tired intensifies the effects of alcohol. 

  8. Lastly, when all else fails, my secret weapon is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia. I am a student of this practice and found it the most effective methodology for reversing chronic insomnia. It is a very effective treatment involving behavioral therapy sessions between patient and a CBT trained sleep doctor to resolve inadequate and nonrestorative sleep.

Discuss CBT with your physician. It is normally covered by insurance. To find a list of accredited sleep doctors who provide CBT, visit http://www.aasmnet.org/BSMSpecialists.aspx
To learn more about CBT, visit http://www.behavioralsleep.org/WhatIsBSM.aspx

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