Insomnia: What Can I Do to Improve My Sleep? 50 + Tips
If you're having trouble sleeping, you've probably tried every trick in the book. From sipping herbal teas to counting sheep, it's now time to prioritise your sleep.
For some, the lack of zzz's doesn't always come with an overnight fix solution. Trying to discover the underlying cause is the first step.
Some are physical, such as those with kidney disease, type 2 diabetes and lung disease — weight and lifestyle, as well as physical changes that occur as part of the ageing process are other causes.
It can also be a result of the pharmaceutical or/and illegal drugs you may be taking. Working night shifts and travelling through different time zones is another reason for insomnia.
Others are mental, including emotional stress, psychiatric disorders and depression. The stress of relationships and exams — receiving bad news. Thinkers, writers and inventors unable to switch off due to constantly thinking of new stories, inventions or just things. And the constant checking of social media notifications can disrupt sleep patterns.
The inability to sleep can be genetic or even hereditary. Some sleep problems tend to resolve without any treatment.
Either way and whatever your reasons or problem/s are, the information below will help you eliminate the stress of not sleeping and help you sleep, although I cannot guarantee you sweet dreams. That I am still working on!
The effects of sleep deprivation
1/6. Things To Do During The Day
2/6. Things To Avoid During The Day
3/6. Gadgets - Tech - Mindfulness
4/6. Winding Down
5/6. The bedroom
6/6. In Bed + What a Good Night's Sleep Does for the Brain
Last Resort: How to remove the stress of not sleeping and help get to sleep
1/6. Things To Do During The Day
Each human and sleep preferences are unique. What works for the goose will not always work for the gander, so experiment and find out what works for you.
- Exercising the mind will help tax the brain enough, so when it's time to sleep, your brain should be exhausted. Reading or studying something new keeps the brain flexible and produces even more brain cells. Plus, the white matter in your brain called 'myelin' helps electrical impulses to transmit efficiently along the nerve cells which could help with age-related cognitive and memory, as well as help you sleep.
- Exercising the body. We all know the importance of daily physical activities to help eliminate a multitude of health problems. My training has made me fitter, stronger, more flexible, given me more confidence, and I am exhausted by bedtime. When I don't feel like exercising I dance (basically, I move around a lot.) Avoid performing vigorous physical exercises or brain-training games too close to bedtime as it will have the opposite effect.
- Excessive body weight is associated with the inability to sleep, and losing just 10 percent of your body weight, then reaching a healthy weight can cure or drastically relieve your insomnia and a multitude of other health-related problems you may not be able to physically see or feel.
- Foods to aid sleep contain all kinds of molecules such as amino acids and natural sedatives. Some keep us awake and alert, others have the opposite effect. Foods which help control the body's internal clock to regulate sleep contain Melatonin (the sleep hormone) are cherries, walnuts, pineapples and kiwi fruit. Tryptophan is found in almonds and cheese, and lactucarium, in lettuce. Avoid sugary foods at night because they will keep you awake. Ensure you eat your last meal or snack at least 2 to 3 hours before going to bed. If you can't, ensure you chew your food properly for easier digestion.
- Vitamins & minerals (V&M) play an important role in our waking life, just as much as sleeping. Ideally, they are best consumed in their natural food form. The herb Valerian (as used by Hippocrates) has a mild sedative effect which relaxes the nervous system and is known to be a mild sedative. Note: Always read the labels: Some V&M should not be used with other medications or when pregnant, breast-feeding or about to have surgery.
- Daily meditation is a great way to relax anyone's mind that races around at 1000 MPH. Or fixated on thoughts you don't want to keep thinking. Find a meditation style that suits you. I incorporate mindfulness meditation for breathing. Zen's meditation to help my muscles and body relax and to stop the minds aimless stream of thoughts, and Tai Chi for a mild yet effective physical exercise.
- Yoga exercises are like foods. Some can energise, others help you relax. The relaxing yoga techniques can help you fall asleep faster and help you return to sleep more quickly if you wake up in the middle of the night.
- Stop sitting for so long. Just because you have a sitting room, it doesn't mean you have to sit in it all day! Sitting (a sedentary lifestyle) for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had similar risks of dying from smoking and/or obesity-related problems. I detested watching TV commercials. Now that's my cue to get up, move and get physical.
- Go outside every day especially if you spend most days indoors will work wonders for anyone's health. Lack of physical activity and staying in each day is not healthy especially if spent sitting down and inactive which can be a killer in itself! Walk in the park, along rivers or by ponds where nature is and avoid polluted busy areas if possible.
- Daytime Naps. To nap or not to nap, that is a question. (See 2/6 - Avoid daytime naps).
2/6. Things To Avoid During The Day
When science becomes common sense. Things to 'avoid' during the day is just as important as things to 'do' during the day.
- Avoid daytime naps! The long history of nap studies is extensive and ongoing. Studies have shown that the timing and duration of a nap, as well as your age, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, are important factors to how beneficial naps are. However, having an afternoon nap once or twice a week made people less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke, depended also on one's experience in napping. Recent studies suggest elderly people should avoid napping during the day to avoid an increase in heart disease and cancer. The science behind napping during the day.
- Avoid nicotine like the plague. "Nocturnal Sleep-Disturbing Nicotine Craving" (NSDNC) is characterised by a craving for nicotine during sleep times. Smoking or consuming nicotine in any form takes smokers longer to fall asleep, and they wake up more frequently. Cutting down or stopping will increase your quality of sleep and hopefully life expectancy. I just wish I had given up smoking long before I received the news of a smoking-related lung and heart disease!
- Avoid taking medications, especially when not needed. Medications raise carbon dioxide levels in the blood and body and deprive the body of an adequate oxygen supply which interferes with sleep, and causes so much damage within the body. Example; why take Beta Blockers to lower blood pressure when you can do it naturally by losing weight, eating healthily and exercising!
- Avoid stressful people by any means possible. I made a conscious decision to avoid a family member, two friends and many acquaintances (toxic people) because they caused me too much stress and stress-related pain. I even moved property because of the stress of living below a former annoying neighbour. If I had to change jobs, I would have — anything for a stress-free healthier pain-free happier life.
3/6. Gadgets - Tech - Mindfulness
For mind, body, soul and sleep, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain." Gadgets, tech and mindfulness is about finding something that works for you to
- Sleep tracker devices used to track sleep patterns can be good and bad. The good; they help to check your heart rate, breathing, snoring and the amount of sleep you get, and how restless your body is while sleeping which works for some. The bad; it can increase insomnia to the point of orthosomnia (the constant checking and worrying about achieving results), like those who get stressed when they don't reach the 10.000 steps required from wearing a fitness tracker, and dieters obsessed with tracking and counting their calorie intake.
- CPAP devices (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure therapy is a common treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea) can help or hinder your progress. From trying to get used to wearing the device, fine-tuning it, and perfecting the adjustments made to the settings on the machine isn’t the easiest task. For some, using a CPAP machine can cause even more problems including a dry mouth, skin irritations, nasal congestion and nose bleeds. If all else has failed to help you sleep, there is only one way of finding out, and that's by trying it. However, sleep surgery may be a final solution to help your breathing or snoring problems if a CPAP device and all lifestyle changes have failed. Surgery options.
- Using a humidifier. Singer Mariah Carey surrounds her bed with many humidifiers. They can also help those using CPAP therapy to enhance airflow quality better than your body can humidify on its own. A humidifier helps to produce moisture and eliminate the dry air that can cause irritations including dry skin, itchy eyes and irritated nasal passages. How humidifiers help you sleep.
- Hypnosis, if you can afford it, can treat many problems such as smoking, anxiety & stress, weight control, confidence, phobias, gambling as well as insomnia. Hypnosis is used to relieve anxiety and stress to help the body and mind relax.
- Acupuncture has been demonstrated to be an effective treatment for insomnia and is available on the NHS.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy-Insomnia (CBT-I) is a natural and common method of treating insomnia without medication. Available via GP referral.
- CBD is one of the main cannabinoids in the cannabis plant which has been shown to improve the sleep of those suffering from Insomnia. However, research on CBD and its effect on sleep and other medical problems are still in its infancy. Various CBD products are widely available.
- Aromatherapy oils can work wonders for almost anyone. Smelling the right aromas can make us feel good, some bring back memories. Others help to aid sleep. The most popular are Lavender, Valerian, Bergamot and Roman Chamomile. These oils also help to treat so many other medical problems from allergies, anxiety depression, infections, as well as aid sleep. Note: Some people will be allergic to some oils. The most common problems are skin inflammation, rashes and dry red itchy skin, so observe and unusual symptoms over the first few days of use. Aromatherapy oils and their uses.
- A Calpol Vapour plug is a device that plugs into your electrical socket and contains a blend of aromatic oils including lavender, chamomile, camphor and eucalyptus. These oils help to soothe and comfort adults and children to help ease breathing. Calpol Vapour plug reviews.
4/6. Winding Down
Winding down is critical in preparing for bed. Time to completely forget the past, future and just enjoy and relax in the present.
Avoid caffeine in tea, coffee, energy drinks and sodas, especially in the evening as it will interfere with the process of falling asleep and prevent deep sleep. Instead, have a warm, milky drink or herbal tea made from valerian, chamomile, ginger, passionflower or peppermint which can help with anxiety and insomnia.
- Alcohol (the odd tipple) can actually promote sleep by affecting a person's sleep homeostasis (the stability, balance, or equilibrium within a cell or the body). Excess amounts of alcohol over long periods will give drinkers more chance of having their sleep disrupted.
- Writing 'to do' lists a few hours before sleeping can organise your thoughts and clear your mind of any distraction. (See 6/6 - Needing to make more 'to-do-lists' notes while in bed).
- Unresolved arguments will keep anyone awake. Try to resolve them long-before going to bed or avoid the people who constantly cause them, even if it means divorce!
- Avoid using electronic devices for at least an hour before sleeping, unless it's a mobile app needed to aid sleep.
- Massages daily or once a week is an organic and a very pleasurable way for anyone to feel relaxed. Ideally, if you can't afford a masseuse or masseur or aromatherapist, try asking a friend or loved-one — or do it yourself. Not as pleasurable but just as effective.
- A warm relaxing bath with aromatherapy oils will help your body to reach an ideal temperature, as well as an aroma that's ideal for rest. If you shower, apply some 'diluted' aromatherapy oils to your body afterwards.
- Colours have a tremendous effect on the mood of individuals. Blue coloured bedrooms have been scientifically proven to help calm and relax the mind. The worst colours to sleep are brown, grey and purple.
Yawning during the day is your brain telling you that it’s overtaxed and needs to rest from over-working or because you have not had enough sleep. Ideally, you want to be yawning prior to going to bed. (see 5/6 - 'yawning late at night').
5/6. The bedroom
The bedroom should be transformed into a sleep-friendly restorative sanctuary. Create a peaceful environment, and you'll be nodding off in no time.
- "Dimming the light in your living room as the time gets closer to sleeping because exposure to bright light throughout the evening inhibits the natural production of melatonin, which can make it harder to fall asleep. (See 6/6 - Bright light therapy).
- Noise-cancelling foam earplugs will not remove all external noise pollution, especially when passing emergency service sirens pass by, but they can help to reduce and even isolate external noise. My first pair worked very well until they became too painful and itchy to use. After trying various brands and materials, I swapped my hard foam earplugs for a softer more comfortable brand which is comfortable for my ears shape and size.
- Noise-cancelling wireless earplugs let you adjust the level of noise cancellation to suit your environment. Or "Noise Masking Sleepbuds" which have soothing sounds or stories using narrated scripts — or gentle hypnotic music and sound effects to help you relax.
- The 'Calm' app has sleep sounds designed to help you focus, relax and sleep. Michael Buble, who suffered from Insomnia, is a big fan of "Calm app" and falls asleep to Matthew McConaughey's voice every night.
- Double-glazed windows helped me to reduce the external noise without any expensive gadgets. Luckily for me, my landlord paid for them.
- Change your sleep scheduled by experimenting. Try going to bed later, or earlier and find out what time is best and stick to it. Record any TV programs you may miss and watch them the following day.
- Bedroom temperature. The ideal bedroom temperature should be between 60 and 67°F / (15 and 19 °C) for optimal sleep. Moderate your room temperature with duvets, pyjamas/nightie as well as your thermostat to regulate heat. For more reasons than to help sleep, why a colder room is better than a hotter room.
- Never use sleeping pills. Pharmaceutical drugs can cause havoc on the body and should never be taken unless 100% required! The side effect of many medications includes insomnia! Pills may help temporarily, but trust me, will make sleeping and your health worse in the long-run.
- Spinning around on my bar-stool and office swivel chair (at your own risk) always makes me very light-headed to the point of passing out and is a great way to change my non-tired mood into a very tired one. Novelist Emily Bronte walked around in circles until she fell asleep.
- Yawning late at night is a sign your body needs rest. Take advantage and go to bed.
- Feng Sui. The bed is the most important piece of furniture in the home. From facing east, west, south or north, and everywhere between, each direction has pros and cons. Charles Dickens slept facing north to improve his creativity. Feng Sui bed position advice.
- Sleeping in separate beds can improve sleep and relationships. I was waking up in the early hours of the morning, but as soon as I became single my sleep improved. Thinking back, my partner may have been an insomniac and was waking me every time she was tossing and turning in bed — or from her restless leg syndrome, she may have had. The solution would have been purchasing a double bed, made out of two separate mattresses which allowed each of us to move around without disturbing each other and each with its bespoke firmness to suit our needs.
6/6. In Bed: What a Good Night's Sleep Does for the Brain
In bed and being asleep is the equivalent of putting a mobile phone or electric car back on its charge to recharge your mind and body for ultimate performance a
- A comfortable mattress and pillow. You'll never know what real comfort is if you never experience it because mattresses and pillow technology have become smarter. For me, it was a nightmare trying to find the right mattress and pillow for my weight, size and comfort needs. Should I buy a sponge, gel or memory foam? Or would spring or dual spring or pocket-spring be comfortable? Or a Hybrid mattress which combine two or more support materials? Perhaps a waterbed would be ideal! When you're out-and-about, or during your work lunch-break, pop into your local bed store or IKEA and have a lay-down. Take advantage of the many mattress companies who offer a '100-night risk-free trial'. Thankfully, all I needed was a memory foam topper.
- Suitable bedding materials are just as important as having the right pillow and mattress. I never realised how heavy and painful my previous duvet was until I purchased a non-feathered variety. As for sheets, cotton is absorbent and pulls moisture from your skin. Silk or satin sheets are well worth the investment considering we spend a 3rd of our lives sleeping. Silk sheets are made of a hypoallergenic material which is resistant to dust mites and better at regulating temperature. Satin sheets can help anyone with allergies or those who are suffering from Eczema. Buying an anti-allergy mattress protector (which are cheap) is a great way to ensure the bed bugs don't bite!
- Boring thing to listen to and watch used to help me fall asleep, but it soon became a chore trying to find something new and boring to listen to or watch each night. Plus, I'm more environmentally and financially aware of electrical items being left on unnecessarily. Preferring to use other organic and natural way to sleep. Best sounds to fall asleep. My friend would always fall asleep watching his favourite film or programme. When he woke up, he would then go to bed.
- Don't have a bedroom clock in view. Constantly waking-up and seeing the time will only cause unnecessary stress and make trying to fall asleep again much harder, and more stressful knowing how late or early it is.
- How long should we sleep for? Like shoe-sizes, we are all different, sometimes a size 6, 7, 8 or 9 fits. Former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher managed to sleep for 4/5 hours each day, and she lived until the ripe old age of 87. Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci slept for 20 minutes every four hours. If unsure about how many hours you need, try experimental sleeping for more or less time and see how your body feels throughout the day. I thought I needed 8-9 hours, but 6-7 works for me which give me extra hours each day to live life.
- Sleeping too much is linked with the same health risks as sleeping too little. Oversleeping health risks.
- Avoid snoring by side-sleeping because sleeping on your back makes you more prone to snoring as it compresses the upper airway. When you sleep on your back, your jaw recedes, the tongue falls back and there is more oval shape of the upper airway. Side sleeping reduces the compression of your airways and can help snorers and their partners to get a good nights sleep. For severe snorers, surgery can trim down the soft palate and uvula, remove the tonsils and reposition some muscles of the soft palate. The only positive from snoring is at least you're sleeping! The negative? You could be keeping a partner awake.
- Needing to make more 'to-do-lists' notes while in bed was initially done with a pen and paper (which required light and physical effort). I then used my mobile phone to record notes (which required light). I now use an old Dictaphone with a 'noise activation feature' which will only activate with sound. This is a great way to discover if you snore. Also, the Dictaphone will record any audible noises throughout the night. Including neighbours having heated argument in the early hours of the morning and emergency service sirens. Smart home-hubs are another way to easily make notes while in bed without being disrupted.
- Sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same times every day, even on the weekends to keep the body clock ticking correctly is vital (unless you can get away laying in).
- Sleeping position. There is no right or wrong way of sleeping. Whichever position you feel most comfortable with is key. For snorers, studies suggest not lying on your back as it can lead to breathing difficulties.
- Level-headed. I have not found any scientific research or experiments to associate which position the head (brain) should be in for ultimate sleep. I do remember a sleep/dream specialist saying, "if you want to remember a dream when you awake, stay in the same position," because the more tossing and turning I did made it harder to remember a dream, and made it harder to sleep, that's why it's best to be as comfortable as possible when in bed, to keep the body (head/brain) in the same position.
- Deep breathing for 5-10 minutes each day will help activate your parasympathetic system (the rest and digest system) and relax and lower the heart rate in preparation for sleep. Close your eyes and relax. Breathe through the nose slowly and deeply. Stay focused on your breath as it fills your lungs, expanding the rib-cage. With each exhale, relax and let your mind come to rest. Continue for 1-5 minutes to unwind, relieve stress and enjoy a night of deep and restful sleep.
- Muscle relaxation techniques are one of the easiest and mindful things to do to relax a tense stiff body. While doing the deep-breathing, with each expel of air, relax each muscle and limb from your head to your toes.
- Bright light therapy (phototherapy) works by stimulating cells in the retina that connect to the part of the brain that helps control the hypothalamus (which releases hormones to regulate body temperature). The exposure to bright light at specific times will help reset the body's sleep clock and help with 'Seasonal Affective Disorder' (SAD).
- Sex or self-gratification (preferably the sex) can actually make it easier to fall asleep because having an orgasm releases a hormone called 'prolactin', which makes you feel relaxed and sleepy.
- Urine and drinking bottles. One urine bottle (similar to what hospitals have) to avoid being disrupted during the night travelling to the toilet. And another bottle with a built-in straw which can be used in any position you're laying in. Be careful not to confuse the two bottles whiles half-asleep! (female urine bottles are available.)
- Rolling up your eyes. Known as 'Bell's phenomenon' (also known as the palpebral oculogyric reflex) is related to loss of consciousness. When you sleep, your eyes naturally roll back in your head, To naturally replicate this while awake, lay down and roll your eyes back intentionally, and slowly slower the breathing with each inhale and exhale of breath to relax your mind and heart rate to help sleep.
- Imagination/visualisation. I imagine 'phosphenes' (the bright lights and patterns you see when the eyes are closed). This has a calming effect on my mind and takes my mind off stressful things by mentally travelling through the galaxy, observing the moving specks of bright lights, shapes and flashes of colours.
- Cuddle a teddy bear, or a suitable pillow is very comforting and has helped me and many people feel comfortable and get to sleep.
- Rocking yourself to sleep is usually seen as a mental health problem, but can be very effective and addictive. This can be done in bed or using a hammock. Rocking to sleep.
- If you cannot sleep, get out of bed is the advice which is always given which makes sense. Instead of tossing and turning, just accept your body is not tired and leave the bedroom to find something relaxing to do until you feel sleepy, then go back to bed.
How to 'remove the stress' of not sleeping and 'help you get to sleep'.
When we cannot sleep, we become anxious and stressed. And stress makes the body produce more cortisone (the stress hormone), and not only does that make us feel more alert, but it also interferes with the body's production of melatonin (the sleepy hormone) that prepares the body to sleep.
To 'remove the stress' of not sleeping and 'help you get to sleep', the trick is to implant fake thoughts into the mind.
How it works. When the stress and frustration of not sleeping kick in, the trick is to imagine it's not late at night, It's first thing in the morning. Your alarm clock has alerted you to GET OUT OF BED! Time To Get Up!. Now imagine that feeling you get laying in, regardless of sleeping or not — the enjoyment of just laying their — in a warm comfortable bed (on 'unlimited' snooze). This is what you have to imagine regardless of sleeping or not. Fool the mind and relieve the stress, to become relaxed and carefree enough to fall asleep.
So, every time the stress or worry kicks in and you're struggling to sleep, just imagine and keep telling yourself, It's first thing in the morning and I can assure you, you should be relaxed enough to alleviate the stress of not sleeping, to help fall asleep.
And hopefully have sweet dreams.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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