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Insomnia means you have a problem falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. Regardless of your sleeping issues, finding insomnia cures that work for you is vital.
Poor sleep not only can cause irritability and make it difficult to concentrate, but it can contribute to more serious problems, increasing your odds of developing such conditions as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. This is because sleep plays a key role in regulating the body’s hormones, chemicals, and metabolism. The centers of the brain responsible for memory and attention require sleep, and your cardiovascular system requires sleep to maintain optimal health and avoid inflammation. (See also our post
1. Good Sleep Hygiene
Improving your bedtime routines are the first insomnia cures to try. Consider these seven steps:
- Make sure your bedroom is dark and cool to create an ideal sleeping environment.
- Avoid caffeine late in the day.
- Avoid alcohol within a few hours of bedtime, and understand that while a drink might make you sleepy, when the alcohol wears off it can interrupt your sleep cycles.
- Exercise in the morning if possible; working out too soon before bedtime can raise your body temperature and make it difficult to sleep.
- Turn off lighted screens, including televisions, computers and cell phones at least an hour before bed, because the light can interfere with the brain’s production of melatonin—a hormone that helps you sleep.
- Get enough natural light during the day; this helps set your internal clock.
- Establish a consistent sleeping schedule. This prompts your body’s internal clock to become accustomed to “normal” times to sleep and to awaken.
Don’t overlook that last point, experts say. “The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular wake and sleep pattern seven days a week,” says Michael Thorpy, MD, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center Montefiore Medical Center in New York. “It is also important to spend an appropriate amount of time in bed—not too little or too excessive.”
If you have trouble with daytime sleepiness, Dr. Thorpy says, try to spend eight hours in bed. If you don’t sleep well at night, don’t spend more than seven hours in bed. This could help you use the time you spend in bed for sleep—not tossing and turning.
2. Eliminate the Stress
If you tend to get anxious or stressed because you’re not sleeping, insomnia cures may be as simple as this tip: Don’t fight your sleep difficulties. For example, if you haven’t fallen asleep within 20 minutes of closing your eyes, get out of bed and go to a quiet place to read. Doing something quiet in a room that isn’t too bright may help make you sleepy.
Insomnia causes many people to keep checking their clock and to worry that they’re never going to fall sleep. Avoid checking the time throughout the night; try turning your clock away from your bed so it’s not easily visible.
Meditation and calm breathing exercises also may help you relax. Andrew Weill, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Arizona and founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, recommends the “4-7-8” approach:
- Exhale through your mouth and then inhale through your nose for a count of four.
- Then hold your breath for a seven count before exhaling for an eight count.
- Repeat three times and see if it helps you relax.
3. How Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) Can Help
For many people, insomnia cures are elusive because they’re caused by psychological factors and require more than simple relaxation strategies. Among the increasingly accepted insomnia cures is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). This form of psychotherapy helps you change the way you think about a situation, and in turn, your behavior and the way you react to that situation will also change.
CBT may, for example, help you avoid anxious thoughts that prevent you from falling asleep, or it may help you change your thinking that you need a drink to help you fall asleep.
“Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is an effective treatment and can be initiated in a primary care setting,” says Wayne Riley MD, president of the American College of Physicians, adding that CBT hasn’t been compared directly against medications in any major studies. But he suspects CBT has fewer complications. “Sleep medications can be associated with serious adverse effects.”
4. Consult a Specialist
While there are many potential insomnia cures that may help you, there are many that may not do the trick. This doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of insufficient sleep. If insomnia is more than a once-in-a-while problem, talk with your doctor or seek out a sleep specialist on your own. Primary care doctors aren’t always knowledgeable about sleep science, so consider finding an expert.
A physician who specializes in sleep medicine isn’t necessarily going to prescribe sleeping pills. The goal is always to help you sleep on your own. But it may be that you have a condition such as sleep apnea—a treatable breathing disorder that interferes with sleep—or you may be dealing with anxiety that CBT or other form of therapy can resolve.
Sleep is too important to let insomnia affect your mental and physical health. Start a conversation with your doctor if some of the simpler insomnia cures aren’t enough to help you sleep better each night.
For further information, see these University Health News posts:
- “What Causes Insomnia?”
- “Can’t Sleep? Here’s How to Beat Insomnia”
- “3 Natural Remedies for Insomnia: Fall Asleep and Stay Asleep”
Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.