It’s miserable when you can’t sleep. We all have nights like that. For true insomniacs, life can become very difficult and it can even affect your health. Don’t despair, we’re here to help!
How lack of sleep can be bad for you
Prolonged sleep loss can affect how you function physically and mentally. This isn’t news to insomniacs but did you know that insufficient rest can cause the following:
- heart disease
- raised blood pressure
- slower reaction times
- slurring of speech
Sleep deprivation is a recognized form of torture. An experiment showed that laboratory rats who weren’t allowed to sleep at all, died after two to three weeks. Luckily, even insomniacs do fall asleep eventually through sheer exhaustion but their sleep is not restorative. Let’s take a look at how you can help yourself to get a good night’s sleep that leaves you feeling refreshed, alert and looking forward to the day ahead.
Is Counting Sheep an ‘Old Wives Tale’?
Apparently not! We may offer it as a flippant form of advice but it does work and there is a scientific reason why. In the 1970’s, two psychologists from Harvard researched how effective it was to ‘count sheep’. They discovered that doing this forced both sides of the brain to work at the same time. This prevented the form of brain activity that can cause insomnia!
Visit your physician
The major cause of insomnia is stress, anxiety and tension. Unfortunately, when you lose out on sleep, those are exactly the things that you feel – so it becomes a vicious circle. If your physician confirms that there is no physical cause for your insomnia, move on to the next suggestion. You may be offered medications but try and use these only as a last resort.
Supplements that can help you sleep
There are certain supplements that you can take to help you fall asleep naturally and have a restful nights sleep. These include:
- L-Tryptophan – is an essential amino acid that helps with relaxation and restful sleep. It’s also said to be helpful for treating depression.
- 5-HTP – This supplement has many benefits. When taken into the body it converts into serotonin which helps to elevate mood. Serotonin is required to produce melatonin and we need melatonin to regulate our sleep-wake cycles.
- Melatonin – As described above, melatonin helps to regulate sleep-wake cycles. This supplement has received some fantastic reviews on iHerb.
Sleep Formulas that can help you sleep
You can also purchase sleep formulas that contain one or more of the above supplements. These are some of the highly rated ones:
- MRM Relax All – This product has received some fantastic reviews. However, this product should not be used on a daily basis as it can cause dependency issues.
Try a relaxing bath before bed
For extra help, use ‘relaxing’ aromatherapy bath oils such as lavender. Don’t soak for too long though – it can make you feel exhausted instead of relaxed.
Magnesium baths may also help as magnesium is a natural relaxant. You can buy either magnesium oil or magnesium flakes and add to a bath as directed. It’s soothing and also makes your skin feel soft. If you’d rather make your own magnesium oil check out this post – How to Make Your Own Magnesium Oil.
Have a massage
If you have a helpful partner, a full body massage can work wonders. Slow, firm, gentle strokes are best and even a backrub or scalp massage can be of benefit.
Play yourself a lullaby
There’s a reason we do it for babies! Make sure the music is gentle and soothing. It doesn’t even have to be music. You can buy CD’s of sounds that are incredibly relaxing. Think of waves breaking gently on the shore… Just be sure that you have a player that turns itself off automatically. You really don’t want to have to spoil all that relaxation by having to turn it off.
One of my favorite meditation pieces is by Andrew Johnson. I find that listening to Andrew’s “Deep Relaxation” is an excellent way to get to sleep. He has an incredibly smooth voice that has me drifting off quite quickly. No more lying awake staring at the ceiling. You can download the Deep relaxation mp3 directly from the Andrew Johnson website or from Amazon.com.
Have a drink of warm milk
A mug or glass of warm or hot (but not cold) milk taken 15 minutes before you go to bed can help to make you relax. This is because the calcium in milk is known to be soothing on the nervous system. If you tend to go to the bathroom during the night, make it a small mug!
Try a herbal tea
Many people can’t take milk for various reasons so try a herbal tea. Choose one that is advertised as helping you to sleep. Flavors to look for include chamomile, anise, fennel or catnip. All of these contain natural ingredients which can promote restful slumber.
The following ‘sleep enhancing’ teas have received quite good reviews:
Have a snack before bed
This means a small snack that’s low in protein and high in carbohydrate, such as a small glass of juice and a cookie. Eat this around an hour before you intend to retire for the night. Other foods that can help you to drop off include eggs, chicken, turkey, cashew nuts and cottage cheese. This is because they contain L-tryptophan which is an amino acid necessary for restful sleep.
Try to avoid tobacco, alcohol and caffeine.
It is tempting to have a ‘nightcap’ but it doesn’t help you to sleep. It makes you dopey for all the wrong reasons and actually stops you reaching a deep level of sleep which is where the refreshed feeling comes from.
If you’re a smoker and unable to sleep, the first thing you probably do is light up. Try to avoid this as it floods your system with nicotine which is a stimulant and will only wake you up more.
Caffeine is another stimulant which coffee drinkers are well aware of. Did you know that there is also caffeine in tea (not herbal teas), drinking chocolate and cola? Try and avoid these from early evening onwards.
Make sure your bedroom is the right temperature and is well ventilated
If your room is too hot, it will keep you awake. The same goes for too cold. The ideal is a steady temperature of 60 to 65 degrees. Make sure that the window has been open during the day to allow fresh air in.
Is your mattress and pillow comfortable?
It sounds obvious but if your body can’t relax, sleep will remain elusive. A firm mattress will support you properly, be kind to your spine and help you to sleep better.
A cool pillow can help and you can now purchase cool memory foam pillows that respond to your body’s change in temperature throughout the night. And if you want the mattress to stay cool you can buy a cool memory foam mattress.
Watch your position
Sleeping on your back is the most effective position for letting body relax properly as all of your internal organs will be resting where they should be. If you really can’t do that, sleep on your right side rather than your left. Lying on your left side allows your major organs to press up against your heart which can cause stress and palpitations.
Wherever possible, don’t sleep on your stomach. It puts pressure onto all of your organs and can prevent you from taking adequate breaths. It can also give you a stiff neck and cause problems with your upper back.
Fit some physical activity into your day
Office workers who work cerebrally rather than physically are far more prone to insomnia than manual workers. Your body needs a certain amount of activity to help you relax properly later so even if you can fit in 15 minutes worth it will help. Make sure this is at least 30 minutes before going to bed as your body needs to slow back down again prior to sleep.
Try and stick to the same bed time
Your body is far more likely to respond favorably if you give it a good routine. You may find it boring but your body will thank you with a good nights’ sleep! If the time arrives and you don’t feel sleepy, force yourself to go to bed anyway and you will be surprised how easily sleep does come.
If you really can’t sleep, get up
Opinion is divided on this one. Some say that you should stick it out and teach your body that staying awake doesn’t result in you getting up. The argument is that if you do get up when you can’t sleep, your body will come to expect that and so it will continue to refuse you sleep.
Others say that it’s best to put a time limit on sticking it out. If you’re still awake after half an hour, get up but don’t do anything stimulating like watching TV, going onto your pc or doing crafts – and certainly not ironing! Just sit quietly doing absolutely nothing and then go back to bed. Your body will soon get the message that it’s not worth staying awake for this!
When you wake up…get up!
Just as you choose a routine time to get into bed, choose a routine time to get up. This should be the same time throughout the week – including on the weekends and even during holidays! Harsh, we know, but how much do you want to sleep?
Try getting up earlier
This is a hard one but it will pay off. When you are starting your new routine of going to bed and getting up at set times, try setting your getting-up-time for half an hour earlier than you normally would. This extra half an hour will make you that much more tired at the end of the day, helping you to sleep. Once you’re able to go to sleep easily, you can try pushing your getting-up-time half an hour forward to your ‘usual’ time.
Keep your bed just for sleeping…
…alright…we’ll allow you one other activity, which is also known to promote sleep! But that’s all. No laptops, reading, watching TV, doing puzzles or anything else. You’re teaching your body that bed is for sleep.
Don’t take naps
This is a difficult thing to do especially if you’re not sleeping well at night. However, it’s not rocket science to realize that if you sleep during the day, your body won’t need so much sleep at night. You have to break the cycle.
Avoid lights in the bedroom
We have so much that is illuminated. Digital alarm clocks, mobile phones that we often charge up on the bedside table, streetlights…how is a person to sleep with all of that light? Change your alarm clock for one without an LED numbers. Put your mobile under a dark cloth. Get blackout curtains. If you don’t like the dark, you can have one nightlight. Your body needs darkness to relax properly so give it what it needs.
If you really, truly, genuinely have tried all of the above – all at the same time – and they haven’t worked, we’d be very surprised. If you still can’t sleep, you may wish to try the herbal sleep aids that you can get at your pharmacy. Follow the instructions to the letter.
If you still can’t sleep…
We’d advise you to return to your physician. They will probably suggest all of the above, so be sure that you really have attempted these first. It’s a good idea to keep a sleep diary. Just note down what you have done each night to help you sleep as well as what time you went to bed and got up and then how you slept.
Your Doctor may refer you for sleep studies and then if appropriate, offer you some form of medication to help. But only as a last resort. Please give these suggestions a try. You will feel so much better for a good nights sleep!