There is nothing worse than being really tired but unable to sleep. This is a common condition, known as insomnia, and can be triggered by a number of possible factors, including stress and worry, underlying health conditions, and alcohol or drug use among others.
Sometimes it is not even possible to identify a cause, and so we have looked at 5 tricks to try which might help get to sleep next time you find yourself lying awake staring at the ceiling.
First of all, let’s take a look at the main reasons we experience insomnia:
Stress and anxiety
Insomnia can often develop after a stressful event, such as bereavement, problems at work or financial difficulties. Sometimes it can continue long after the event has passed because it starts to become associated with going to bed and being awake.
This can actually develop into an anxiety about sleep itself. General worries about work, family or health, can also keep you awake at night. Night time is the worst time for these thoughts to take over and keep you awake.
A poor sleep routine and sleeping environment
You may find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep if you go to bed at inconsistent times, nap during the day, or don’t ‘wind down’ before going to bed. A routine for sleeping can help, and an environment that is not too bright, comfortable and the right temperature.
Drinking excessive alcohol before going to bed, and taking certain recreational drugs can affect your sleep, as can stimulants such as nicotine (found in cigarettes) and caffeine (found in tea, coffee and energy drinks). These should be avoided in the evenings.
Mental health conditions
Some mental health problems can often affect a person’s sleeping patterns, including:
- mood disorders –such as depression or bipolar disorder
- anxiety disorders –such as generalised anxiety, panic disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder
- psychotic disorders –such as schizophrenia
Physical health conditions
Insomnia can also be caused by underlying physical conditions, including:
- heart conditions – such as angina or heart failure
- respiratory conditions –such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma
- neurological conditions –such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease
- hormonal problems – such as an overactive thyroid
- joint or muscle problems – such as arthritis
- problems with the genital or urinary organs –such as urinary incontinence or an enlarged prostate
- sleep disorders – such as such as snoring and sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, night terrors and sleepwalking
- long-term pain
- In women, childbirth can sometimes lead to insomnia.
Some prescriptions or over-the-counter medications have side effects which can cause insomnia and these include:
- certain antidepressants
- epilepsy medicines
- medicines for high blood pressure, such as beta-blockers
- steroid medication
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- stimulant medicines used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy
- some medicines used to treat asthma, such as salbutamol, salmeterol and theophylline
So, those are the main causes for insomnia, putting health conditions aside, let’s look at a few handy and naturally effective ways of helping you get to sleep. (1)
To learn about some easy ways to fall (and stay) asleep, we talked to Joyce Walsleben, PhD, of New York University’s Sleep Disorders Center. “The easiest and most powerful trick people can do to improve their sleep is to get rid of time cues in the bedroom,” she says.
So, that means no clocks, obviously, but also cover the blinking DVR light and make sure you’re too far away from your phone to check it in the early morning hours. However, if you need a few more ideas, click through to see five other surefire ways to get those crucial ZZZs. Sweet dreams are waiting for you.
TRICK #1: SET A SCHEDULE
This might sound tough, but seriously, if insomnia is getting you down, then setting a consistent bedtime and wake-up time will help your body get into a natural routine, even at weekends.
This helps develop your natural body clock and gets you into a sleep rhythm which will almost certainly help improve your sleepless nights if you are currently subjecting yourself to erratic bed times.
TRICK #2: STAY COOL
Your body’s temperature naturally drops when you fall asleep, hitting its lowest point at about 4 a.m. before warming up again, and it’s normally easier to keep warm during the night than to cool down.
So, keep your bedroom on the cool side which allows that drop in body temperature to take place. The classic recommendation is to stay somewhere between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, but the best temperature is whatever’s most comfortable for you, and that varies a lot between individuals.
TRICK #3: EXERCISE
There’s a wealth of research suggesting that people who exercise regularly sleep better too, but, timing can be important, so don’t feel like you need to force yourself to wake up for a jog before dawn if you’re a natural night owl, find a way to fit in a schedule which suits you.
Other research suggests doing cardio in the morning and strength training later in the day can improve your ability to drift off at night, but not less than three hours before you go to bed.
TRICK #4: LIMIT ELECTRONIC SCREENS
Research has shown that certain wavelengths of blue light are alerting, and that when we’re starting to get sleepy, melatonin, starts to flow. However, blue light can inhibit that process, causing us to stay awake.
Either, switch to reading a book or, if really necessary, take advantage of F.lux, software that can switch screens’ wavelengths and/or dimming the brightness as much as possible.
TRICK #5: STAY CALM
Nobody can go from full speed ahead to stop in no time at all, so the bedtime routine is important in getting your system into the habit of calming down and unwinding, ready for sleep. Some people read, some listen to music, but whatever works for you is the one to choose.
So, that’s a brief selection of things which should help get you off to sleep. Don’t forget there are some other health factors which can cause insomnia and these might need professional help. (2)