Are you looking forward to bedtime but dreading the idea of another sleepless night? Have you thought about asking your doctor for a sleeping pill but hate the idea of becoming dependent on medications?
Before turning to sleep medication, consider these proven techniques for sound sleep.
1. Stimulus control. Just as you associate cooking with eating, you must train your mind and body to associate your bedroom with sleeping. Don’t read in bed, watch TV, or play video games. Get in the habit of using your bedroom only for rest activities. If you haven’t fallen asleep for 20 to 30 minutes, get out of bed and go somewhere else for an activity that requires you to be awake. When you feel a little tired, go back to the bedroom and try again. Within a few weeks of establishing this routine, you should fall asleep more quickly.
2. Avoid known stimulants. While most people know that caffeine keeps people awake, many don’t realize that a cup of coffee as early as noon can contribute to insomnia 12 hours later. Nicotine can also be the culprit for insomnia and is best avoided, especially at the end of the day. Exercise contributes to a good night’s sleep unless done within four hours of bedtime, in which case it tends to delay falling asleep.
3. Improve your sleep hygiene. Optimizing your sleep environment increases the chances that you will fall asleep and stay asleep. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Don’t take naps which will naturally decrease the amount of sleep your body needs at night. Keep your bedroom at your preferred temperature for sleeping. Just as your body is used to eating at certain intervals, you can train it to sleep on time. Like children, adults do best with a specific bedtime.
4. Use relaxation techniques. Many people who suffer from insomnia have forgotten the art of relaxation. However, there are numerous techniques to retrain the mind and body. One effective method is to allow up to 200 breaths to fall asleep. After each breath, identify an area of your body that is not relaxed and purposely relax that muscle group. If you haven’t fallen asleep within 200 breaths, get out of bed and engage in quiet activity for at least half an hour before trying again.
5. Avoid medications at bedtime. Many drugs interfere with falling asleep or staying asleep, sometimes some you wouldn’t expect them to. Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and other allergy or sinus medications are common culprits. Interestingly, some over-the-counter sleeping pills have a stimulating effect on certain people. Antidepressant medications are often used to treat insomnia, but they can actually cause it too. Even blood pressure medications, antibiotics, and cholesterol medications can interfere with sleep in susceptible people. Talk to your doctor about changing your medication schedule if you think this may be the case.
6. Paradoxical intention. Have you noticed that as soon as you go on a diet you want to eat more? Even Mary Poppins knew that telling a child to stay awake often had the opposite effect. Instead of worrying about falling asleep, focus on staying awake. This alleviates the fear of sleeping, allowing a person to relax. Tell yourself that you must stay awake for half an hour (or 200 breaths). If you can stay awake, get up and try again an hour later.
7. Limit alcohol consumption. While a glass of wine can help you relax, alcohol consumption is also associated with sleep problems in many people and is best avoided in the hours before bedtime. Limiting fluids in the evening hours also reduces the need to wake up to go to the bathroom at night.
Only if these techniques, used in combination, are ineffective, should it be necessary to visit your doctor. Once you discover what works for you, you will have an answer that will last a lifetime.