Falling asleep is as important to your health as exercise and a sensible diet. Here are some ways to avoid insomnia and put those sleepless nights to bed.
If you’ve ever spent what feels like hours tossing and turning during the night, you’re not alone: Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint among Americans. In any given year, 30 to 40 percent of adults report at least a temporary problem falling asleep.
There are a few definitions of insomnia, including trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up feeling groggy. Insomnia is so prevalent because there are so many misconceptions about it, says Donnica Moore, MD, president of the Sapphire Women’s Health Group. Perhaps the most common misconception about insomnia is that “people don’t realize it’s a medical problem, and they don’t seek help,” she says. In fact, insomnia is important to get under control because “sleep is as important to health as a healthy diet or regular exercise,” Dr. Moore says.
Tips for Treating Insomnia
Our busy lives may cause insomnia in surprising ways. Mey, for example, has a demanding job in Los Angeles that requires her to drive throughout the city seeing clients most of the day. She’s in the habit of drinking most of her water in the evening, when she can stay at home and relax. Unfortunately, Mey pays the price later. “I wake up two to three times a night to go to the bathroom,” she explains. “I have no trouble falling asleep, but my sleep gets interrupted.”
Fortunately, some simple changes in lifestyle — what Moore and other experts call “good sleep hygiene” — often are enough to get your sleep schedule back on track and avoid insomnia.
- Get evaluatedSee a health care professional to get a complete medical evaluation. Insomnia may result from conditions such as hyperthyroidism, heart rhythm disturbances, pain that isn’t being managed sufficiently, or even indigestion, says Moore. Identifying and treating these problems cure the insomnia.
- Follow a scheduleEstablish and adhere to consistent times for waking up, eating, exercising, winding down, and sleeping. “Think about it the same way you think about sleep-training a toddler,” Moore explains.
- Maintain bedroom rulesYour bedroom should be reserved for sleep and sex.
- Create your own caveYour sleep can suffer if the room is too warm or noise and light surround you. Create a cave-like room that’s cool, dark, and quiet. A fan or a white-noise machine can neutralize ambient sounds.
- Work outExercise regularly, but no later than three to five hours before bedtime. A nighttime workout can leave you too wired to fall asleep easily.
- RelaxWind down with relaxation methods such as yoga, meditation, a warm bath, or calming music.
- Seek adviceDiscuss your insomnia or other sleep disorders with your doctor if you’re not able to fall asleep using these measures. There’s more content below this advertisement. Jump to the content.
- Keep a television in the bedroomThe bright glow of a television doesn’t help create a dark, quiet place to lay your head. Stick your television and computer in another room in the house.
- Use alcohol as a sleeping aidAlcohol makes you more likely to fall asleep, but less likely to stay asleep.
- Underestimate your caffeine intakeSome people are more sensitive to caffeine than others, Moore explains. Your spouse may be able to enjoy a cup of coffee after dinner and sleep like a baby, while coffee after 11 a.m. may leave you with the jitters for the rest of the night. Don’t exceed your limit.
- Eat a large meal right before bedInsomnia may strike if you load up on heavy foods around bedtime. However, a light, protein-rich snack, such as a slice of turkey or cereal and milk, may help because they contain tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes sleep.
- Stay in bed if you can’t fall asleepGet up and read or pursue another relaxing activity until you feel sleepy again, then return to bed.
By Norra MacReady – Medically reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig, MD