Do you struggle to fall asleep at night? Or do you find yourself wide awake at three in the morning staring up at the ceiling, wondering if you’ll fall back to sleep at all before your alarm goes off? If you answered “yes,” you are not alone. I’ve had times where I couldn’t fall asleep. It usually happens right before a vacation. I can relate to the “I’m too excited to sleep!” Disney commercial. Everyone suffers from an occasional sleepless night, but it begins to be a problem when insomnia occurs on a regular basis. Research has shown that up to 50 percent of the population suffers some type of sleep problem, with up to a third having struggled with it for at least a year.
The average adult requires a little over eight hours of sleep each day. However, very few people are able to manage that with lives that are more hectic than ever: our jobs, our children, and other obligations require us to be up with the birds and has us going to bed far later than we would if we were following our own biological rhythms. A disruption to our circadian rhythm, which governs our hormone production, body temperature, and sleep, can lead to insomnia.
We all need adequate, restful sleep in order to perform at our best. Prolonged insomnia can cause mental fuzziness and interfere with how you perform your daily activities. It also increases your risk of depression, headaches, auto accidents, and can lead to substance abuse. Of course, worrying about the lack of sleep you are getting rarely helps you get more sleep! Stress, anxiety, and widespread use of coffee and alcohol are some of the greatest contributors to insomnia.
Learning how to effectively manage stress is one of the best ways to increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep, and making some changes to your lifestyle may make a difference in the number of hours of sleep you get. Following are a few strategies you can try that have been effective for me, my wife, and my patients:
- Get regular exercise before dinner, which can help put your body in a restful state by bedtime. Just be sure not to exercise too close to bedtime, as this will likely make you restless.
- Try to get out in the late afternoon sun as often as possible to stimulate melatonin release, which will help get your circadian rhythm back on track.
- Use stress reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation, and Tai Chi, which are great ways to help teach your mind and body to relax.
- Caffeine and smoking keep the body stimulated. Try to avoid them from mid-afternoon on, and keep your consumption of alcohol to a minimum.
- Eat a small snack of protein with a complex carbohydrate just before bed, such as peanut butter on a whole-grain cracker. It can keep your blood sugar from dipping too low and waking you up in the night.
- Keep to the same sleeping and waking schedule every day and don’t change it by more than an hour on weekends.
- Avoid television or computer use at least an hour before bedtime, as it stimulates the brain, making it difficult to fall asleep.
- Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and cool.
- If you are lying awake for more than about 20 minutes, get up and go sit in another dimly lit room until you feel sleepy.
It can’t hurt to try these strategies. You have nothing to lose and might gain some much needed rest. Give them a try — different ones have worked for me and my wife at various times. They may help you too!