If you feel like you have to resort to taking prescription sleeping pills to get over your insomnia, think again.
Would you pay someone to teach you how to sleep? For insomnia sufferers, the idea isn’t crazy. Because when you’ve tried just about every remedy out there, and you don’t want to rely on prescription sleep aids, sleep “lessons” may be the next logical step. Below are three great, medication-free ways to improve your snooze.
Try a three-step approach
Sleep expert Michael Krugman believes that because many people become hyper-aroused during the workday, it’s difficult to turn off that arousal at night to get the rest they need. The author of The Insomnia Solution, Krugman teaches insomnia-relief via the “Sounder Sleep System,” a three-step process comprised of natural breathing, daytime relaxation techniques, and sleep induction exercises. The system incorporates teachings from yoga and meditation, and, as he describes, “has a general [relaxing] effect” on both your mind and body. The goal is to better manage your levels of arousal (and stress) throughout the day by engaging in “day tamers,” (essentially cognitive breathing exercises such as paying attention to the parts of your body that move as you breathe) and to further help the body and mind relax by practicing “mini moves” in bed at night. These very slight physical movements — like swirling a finger or curling the toes — are designed to refocus your attention upon the slow, relaxing motion instead of your inability to fall asleep.
Biofeedback, like many other relaxation techniques, is used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, ADHD, migraine headaches, and insomnia. During a session, the patient monitors the physiological responses of his or her body — such as heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension — on a machine and concentrates on trying to control one or more of these responses. This is usually achieved by a process of trial-and-error; learning how to properly breathe, tense and relax muscles, or react to passing thoughts are all behaviors that the patient might change in order to achieve the desired effect. Dr. Robert Reiner, a clinical psychologist and executive director of Behavioral Associates, a mental health center based in New York City, describes biofeedback’s benefits as being similar to putting on makeup or shaving with a mirror, versus without one. “When you put a mirror in front of you it makes a big difference,” he says, explaining that you’re more likely to do an efficient job when you can watch your progress. Of course, with practice we can all learn how to put on a little mascara without a mirror, and Reiner believes this is the result of having watched yourself put on makeup many times before. “Believe it or not, if you watch your heart rate for a while, you learn to control it [in much the same way],” he says.
After several sessions of visually monitoring the body’s reactions and learning what helps you relax, most people are able to produce the same result without watching the machine. Reducing the responses of the autonomic nervous system (the part of your nervous system that controls heart rate, respiration rate, salivation, and perspiration) mimics the natural changes that occur when we fall asleep: our heart rate and blood pressure drop, and our cognitive processing and muscle tone decrease. “We all know that if you’re trying not to fall asleep you can snap yourself out of it by focusing your attention on something, like the TV,” Reiner says. “We now know that biofeedback can teach you how to exert voluntary control over the autonomic nervous system to help you get to sleep too.”
Give acupuncture a try
Recent studies have shown that acupuncture is helpful in decreasing anxiety and increasing the melatonin in your body, a natural hormone that helps you go to sleep. Acupuncture is the stimulation of designated areas on the body that release opioid peptides (or amino acids, which are formed in these designated areas and play an important role in controlling our behavior, emotions, and reactions to stress or pain). Releasing these opioid peptides contributes to a greater production of melatonin. But many people are hesitant to try acupuncture because they fear that the needles, when inserted, will hurt. For the most part, however, they don’t. Most medical professionals agree that acupuncture is virtually painless, though you might notice a slight pricking sensation when the needles are put in place. Studies on acupuncture’s effectiveness emphasize that treating any underlying psychological causes of insomnia – such as an anxiety disorder or depression — is the first step to take, however.
By Adrienne Rayski