Diagnosed by the inability to fall - or stay asleep, insomnia is one of the worlds most common sleep disorders. If you are suffering from symptoms of insomnia, do yourself a favor and opt for these all-natural ways to promote sleep. Kathryn Reid, PhD (Department of Neurobiology and Physiology at Northwestern University), says drug-free treatment is the best choice when dealing with insomnia because it eliminates the potential of drug interaction and eliminates potential association with any type of addictive sleeping aid.
1. Know What You Want
Without knowing what the goal is, how would you even know where to start? The first step in tackling insomnia is understanding what ideal sleep really is. Starting with the basics: sleep is your bodys natural recovery and rest period. Your brain operates on a 24-hour circadian rhythm that is responsible for telling you when you need sleep and when you should be awake. When dealing with insomnia, the circadian rhythm isnt often functioning properly (which could be caused by many different things), and it usually noticeable when trying to fall or stay asleep. According to medical professionals, normal sleepers easily fall asleep once in bed and relaxed and are fully asleep within an average of 3-15 minutes. Everyones bodies are different and has a bad nights sleep once in a while, so talk to your doctor if you are having troubling falling asleep continuously.
It is important to understand that falling asleep is only one part of a goodnights sleep. Insomnia is not solely defined by difficulty falling asleep, but is also identified by having difficulty staying asleep. During the night, the brain cycles through four stages of sleep also known as your sleep architecture. The first stage Stage N1- typically making up 10% of your total sleep time, is the lightest stage of sleep where your body is still aware and vulnerable to external stimulus. You spend most of your time asleep in the next stage (N2), as your body becomes unaware of external stimuli. Next up is slow-wave sleep (Stage N3), and is identified as the most restorative sleep stage. Lastly, REM sleep (Stage R) is the deepest sleep possible, but is the period of sleep in which your brain and body is most active. Dreams occurs during the REM (rapid eye movement) cycle; however, your brain relaxes your muscles so you do not end up acting out your dreams. In order feel rested and restored, the body must complete the entire sleep cycle several times each night.
2. Evaluate Your Lifestyle
Sleep is a necessity, but is often viewed in todays society as simply a luxury. This an extremely dangerous approach to daily life since sleep is just as important as food, water, and air is to your well-being. Lack of sleep leads to decreased brain function: (limiting your ability to remember, learn, focus, or react), immune function (significantly increasing your susceptibility to disease and illness), and other harmful effects (reduced metabolism, weight gain, unhealthy cravings, poor skin, irritability, and psychological disorders). As the amount of ideal sleep decreases, the risk of having one or all of these serious and scary effects increases. Now that you understand the type of sleep you should be getting, it is time to asses your own lifestyle. Are your activities, diet choices, exercises, or any other daily factors that make up your day giving you insomnia?
Making the choice to sleep better wont be simple, but it will be worth it! First, take a look at your daily routine and lifestyle and identify any external factors that could be the cause of your insomnia. The most common factors seen by medical professionals include: anxiety and stress, lack of exercise, alcohol and caffeine consumption, poor diet, and lack of motivation. In fact, most people have trouble falling asleep because they are anxious and worried that they wont fall asleep. After identifying this factors (either with or without medical help), make a plan and stick to it. Throughout the day use common sense when making decisions, asking yourself how certain activities, foods, tasks, etc. will affect your ability to sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, living an active lifestyle that addresses relaxation, diet, and personal relationships, will foster improved sleep quality and patterns.
3. Set the Scene
The process of relaxing your body and mind to sleep starts long before you get under the covers. When preparing for bed, it is important to put away cellphones, laptops, or any stimulating, bright device. Establishing a bedtime routine (putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, etc.) signals to the brain that it is time to relax. Avoid taking hot showers before bed because in order to fall asleep, your body needs to maintain a certain body temperature, so avoid hot showers, exercise, or anything that could raise your core temperature. Sleeping on breathable linens and keeping your room cool are also great ways to lower your body temperature and keep you comfortable throughout the night. Research shows that sleep is disrupted at temperatures below 54° F and above 72° F.
In addition to temperature, there are several other environmental that affect sleep. Quality sleep is easily attainable in a tranquil environment free from any type of stimulation. It is important to keep your room feeling like a sanctuary in order to reduce stress, anxiety, and sleepless nights. Invest in a comfortable mattress and supportive pillow since you are spending at least 1/3 of your life in bed. Lastly keep your room dark and eliminate any additional sounds in order to avoid stimulation. Preparing an ideal environment will help improve both the quality and quantity of your slumber.
4. Avoid Sleeping Pills
When desperate for sleep, insomniacs often turn to sleeping medication. While medication does offer some relief from restless nights, medical professionals advise against it. Although some medications advertise that they are non-adictive, learning to rely on sleep aids in order to fall asleep creates a dependency on a false sense of rest. Even though sleeping medications perscribed by a doctors will allow you to fall (and stay) asleep, they often disrsupt your sleep architecture throughout the night, leading to increased grogginess and exhaustion during the day. For example, benzodiazepines are often perscribed to relax your entire body and mind for insomnia; however, this is a strong medication (even sometimes used as general anesthesia), reducing the bodys amount of slow-wave sleep since it forces the body into a deep sleep. Without slow-wave sleep (also known as Stage N3), the body is unable to restore itself. On the other hand, nonbenzodiazepines such as Lunesta or Ambien may not have a large impact on the sleep cycle, but affect other factors that contribute to a good nights rest (i.e. respiration, heart rate, etc.) and can have negative long-term effects on the body physically and psychologically. Other than stress on the body while taking the medication, the risk for rebound insomnia after going off the medication is incredibly high.
Now, even if you change your sleeping habits and workhard to reduce insomnia, it is possible that seeking extra help is necessary. If the time has come to seek medical help, make sure to address possible supplements and natural herbs as a potential alternate to medication. Doctors specializing in homeopathic are often difficult to locate and are very expensive; however, your body will thank you for choosing to battle insomnia naturally rather than synthetically. Medical professionals are taught to prescribe drugs to solve problems which can often be a bandage for the problem. On the other hand, homeopathic supplements and herbs address diseases, symptoms, or any upset in the body as an unbalance of its components. For example, a patient suffering from insomnia would be advised to take magnesium in order to improve fatigue symptoms and regulate the bodys internal clock. Doctors avoid using homeopathic treatment such as magnesium and other natural supplements/herbs are because these remedies arent approved by the FDA, so people tend to steer away from uncertainty. While the positive effects and success stories of homeopathic medicine cant be found through FDA, there are countless online forums and books praising this alternative treatment method.
5. Check Your Medicine Cabinet
Even though individuals may steer away from prescription sleep aids, it is possible that symptoms of insomnia may still be coming from your medicine cabinet. Medications prescribed for anything from everyday pain to an infection are actually some of the most common causes of internal sleep. Consumers of these drugs are often unaware of the potential side effect of sleep complications or insomnia because there are often more serious potential side effects to be worried about. For example, alpha-blockers are typically prescribed for serious health complications such as high blood pressure, benign prostatic hyperplasia, and Raynauds disease. Drugs such as alfuzosin (Uroxatral), prazosin (Minipress), and tamsulosin (Flomax) keep blood vessels open by preventing the hormone norepinephrine from tightening the muscles responsible. While prescribed in order to improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, and relax the muscles associated with prostate problems in older men, evidence links them to day-time fatigue and a decrease in REM sleep. Such side effects lead to memory issues, but are often ignored by consumers since they are focusing on how the medication is effecting their main concern.
Alpha-blockers are not the only medication linked to sleeping problems that you should be aware of. According to AARP.org, be aware of The Top 10 drug types that cause insomnia, which include: alpha-blockers, beta-blockers, corticosteroids, SSRI antidepressants, statins, glucosamine/chondroitin, H1 antagonists, cholinesterase inhibitors, Angiotensin II-receptor blockers (ARBs), and ACE inhibitors. While these medications address the patients initial concern, extensive research and reports list insomnia or sleep issues as a potential side effect for all these medications. Reported side effects include migraines (glucosamine/chondroitin), muscle pain during the night (statins), constant hacking and dry coughing (ACE inhibitors), disturbed sleep from diarrehea and other symptoms (ARBs), and several others that disturb the bodys internal clock or nighttime rest. Restorative, good sleep is necessary for the body to take care of itself, so if insomnia or sleep disturbances become an issue directly identified with medication discusss potential options with your doctor. This can often be taken care of by taking the emdication at a different time of the day, or adding supplements to the your diet that compliment the prescription.
6. Get Moving
If you want some quality sleep, get out and move! It is no secret that exercise aids in weightloss, strengthens both the body and mind, and reduces stress and anxiety; however, exercise has a huge effect on sleep as well. In fact, research shows a significant difference between the sleep patterns in individuals who move for at least 30 minutes a day compared to those who remain sedentary. The scientists at Northwestern University conducted a 16-week experiment that tested the relationship between exercise and sleep by placing participants either in Group A (exercised at least four times per week), or Group B (only exerted themselves mentally and limited physical movement/activity). Information and results recorded during the experiment include improved sleep, fewer symtoms of depression, reduced daytime fatigue, and more vitality in participants in Group A, while Group 2 only reported lethargy, sleep issues, and unchanged or worsened depressive symptoms. This information provided evidence concluding that the health benefits are expressed in the participants of Group A because daily exercise improves both the quantity and quality of sleep over an extended period of time - one workout wont just solve everything.
As you begin to use exercise to reduce symptoms of insomnia, it is important to understand HOW exercise affects the body, rather than just why. Basically, numerous important things occur within your body as you exert yourself during exercise. While you increase your movement during a workout, your body temperature will rise; however, after completion of the workout, your body temperature will fall back down causing you to feel sleepy. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, it takes an average of 5-6 hours for the change in core temperature to effect energy, so avoid exercising a few hours before bed. Knowing that exercise helps insomnia, some assume that more exercise means more sleep which is not true! Specialists make a point of addressing the amount of exercise ideal for a perfect nights sleep. In an effort to relax the muscles after overexertion, the body feels the need spend the majority of its time in REM sleep and will spend less time in the other necessary sleep stages especially reducing the amount of restorative slow-wave sleep. Due to this fact, medical professionals advise to get about 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise, but to avoid extreme workouts and training. Unless you are a professional athlete used to the movement, constant exhaustion due to extreme exercise will lead to a disruption in a healthy sleep architecture.
7. Try Mantram
Take a break from counting sheep and try a new way to relax your mind. Originally used to reach a state of deep spiritual mediation, mantram is now being praised as a successful approach for treating insomnia. Mantram is defined as the practice of repeating certain syllables, sounds, words, or phrases over and over again. Based off the same psychological thinking as therapeutic hypnosis, mantram helps unify consciousness and actually fights negative thinking. Individuals suffernig with insomnia or other sleep issues typically complain of staying awake due to constant thoughts, a racing mind, anxiety, and worries. Mantram is especially successful if experiencing symptoms such as these in restless minds
In-depth medical studies have provided information stating that the repetition used in mantram actually counteracts negative thoughts and harmful mental states. In todays society, mental illnesses due to chronic stress are becoming quite common in adults, teens, and even children. Each day the brain works to keep the body functioning properly, while also making constantly making conscious and unconscious decisions. For example, the brain is stressing and working when activating your nerves and muscles to move your hand from a hot iron or allowing you to cough when food goes down the wrong tube. If sleep is not available, the body and mind will not recover from everyday stress and exhaustion. Unlike other sleep aids, mantram is easy, portable, and free! Try experimenting with a variety of different verbal formulas, stay focused, and youll be amazed with the results.
8. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI)
Research shows that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia is not only an effective way to treat insomnia, but it is also a lasting one. CBTI does not use any medication during treatment, but instead addresses any thoughts or actions that are getting in the way of falling or staying asleep. Often used to treat other conditions such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, this type of therapy teaches the patient that they have the potential to improve their issues. In cases addressing insomnia or sleep-related issues, a patient works with a psychotherapist not only to realize what is contributing to their lack of sleep, but why it is. Depending on the patient, situation, or severity of the condition, the psychotherapist will begin treatment after an in-depth evaluation of the mental and behavioral state of the patient. Although results may take longer to see and this method of treatment may take a long time, CBTI focuses on teaching the patient useful skills, exercising, and coping mechanisms that can be used forever, rather than relying on a pill.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia uses one or more hands-on approaches to reach a goal established by the psychotherapist and patient. This goal is reached with frequent visits with your psychotherapist and clinician, who will perform sleep assessments and most likely ask that you keep a sleep log in order to better understand your situation. After assessing your progress or lack there-of, they will help the patient change any sleep-discouraging behaviors or thoughts. More than likely, insomnia is directly linked to daily stress, diet, exercise routine, or other controllable factors. By working with patients to establish a routine, sleep hygiene, sleep restriction, or any worries regarding sleep, CBTI addresses the underlying causes insomnia, making it an effective both short-term and long-term, all-natural treatment. Unlike medication which just addresses the chemical and internal causes of insomnia, CBTI addresses the mind by adding cognitive thinking and behavioral changes in which the patient is in full control.
9. Limit Your Time In Bed
People often believe that the more time spent in bed means more sleep, which is absolutely not the case. Medical professionals unanimously agree that your bed should be used only for two things: sex and sleep. Doing anything else in your bed teaches your brain to identify the place for activities other than sleep. For example, if you bring your work to bed with you, your body will learn to establish your bed as a place for stress or anxiety created from by your job, preventing your mind from relaxing and resting at night. Originally developed by Richard Bootzin, this idea is known in the medical community as "Stimulus Control." This nonpharmacologic sleeping aid has proved to be extremely successful in treating forms of chronic insomnia.
Scientists at Stanford Medical Center have conducted extensive research on Stimulus Control, stating that it "is designed to strengthen the bed as a cue for sleep and weaken it as a cue for wakefulness." The process of altering an individuals behavior associated with their bed makes it one of the most common approaches specialists use when treating patients using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). If you or a medical professional believe that your bedtime routine or bedroom activities are contributing to symptoms of insomnia, Stimulus Control is an easy and generally successful option. The most common issues identified by professionals are working, texting, or watching television from the comfort of your bed. It is important to avoid jumping under the covers unless you actually feel sleepy, since lying wide awake stressing about rest can make falling asleep just as difficult as looking as a bright screen. With this in mind, if you are unable to fall asleep, get out of bed and relocate to avoid tossing and turning all night long. Return to bed only when sleepy in order to condition your brain to falling asleep, rather than just nighttime.
10. Maintain a Sleep-Friendly Diet
In addition to simply avoiding caffeine and alcohol, all aspect of ones diet has a large impact on sleep quality and quantity. Everyone knows that foods with a high glucose content lead to the infamous sugar high, and should be avoided close to bedtime. Similar to how sugar increases energy for a short period of time, consuming excessive carbohydrates forces the body to store it as long-term energy. With this in mind, do your best to avoid bedtime snacking and midnight snacks. Choosing to consume foods high in carbs within two hours prior to bedtime will negatively affect the body's ability to fall and stay asleep. If you find yourself hungry lat at night, opt for foods that promote sleep like turkey or nuts.
It is also important to avoid fluids before bed in order to avoid the need to run to the restroom in the middle of the night. Research suggests to avoid fluids three hours before bedtime, encouraging individuals to hydrate during the first half of the day rather than the second. Although fluids should be avoided late at night, individuals suffering from chronic insomnia are encouraged to try a well-known sleepy-time drink when getting ready for bed. The most well known of these drinks are a warm glass of milk and cherry juice, which both support the brains natural production of melatonin. By choosing a calcium-rich glass of Almond Milk or small glass of cherry juice rather than relying on a melatonin supplement, you are increasing the brains ability to naturally create this sleep-inducing hormone and preventing dependence on synthetic hormones. During your next visit to the grocery store, make sure to choose items that promote sleep and relaxation.