Insomnia can be hard to live with. Sleep is one of the most important things you need to remain healthy and sane. We can live without food for days, live without friends too, but sleep is something everyone needs every single day.
But what to do when you have been finding it hard to sleep for days or weeks? Don’t lose hope, there are solutions that will improve your sleep and the overall quality of your life. Insomnia will no longer make you stressed or distracted once you try the proven solutions that we are going to discuss today.
Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or keep sleeping once you’ve slept. Some find it hard to fall asleep, others wake up abruptly during the night and can’t stay asleep. Furthermore, insomnia can be chronic, lasting for months on end or acute, due to temporary disturbances in life.
There are several symptoms of insomnia:
If you check for most of the following symptoms, you have insomnia:
- Unable to fall asleep at night
- Waking up in the middle of sleep and can’t fall asleep
- Waking up too early in the morning
- Feeling tired after waking up
- Feeling groggy during the day
- Feeling tired for no reason
- Feeling anxious or depressed
- Making frequent mistakes
- Lack of concentration or focus
Insomnia can happen due to many reasons. The most common reason is stress or illness.
- Temporary stress due to changes in job, relationships, death of a loved one, or moving to a new place.
- Uncomfortable environment with noise, high or low temperature, light.
- Physical or emotional pain
- Chronic stress
- Anxiety and depression
- Poor sleep routine – engaging in stimulating activities before bed,
- Medications – Medicines such as those for pain and weight-loss, can interfere with sleep
- Medical conditions – Diseases such as asthma, cancer, diabetes, thyroid, chronic pain can interfere with sleep
- Coffee, smoking, or drinking – All three are stimulants which interfere with natural sleep. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it stops you from entering deep sleep and often wakes you up in the middle of the night
Of course, insomnia can make you feel tired and groggy all day. But what else?
- It may hurt your productivity at work and slow down your career progress. When we don’t get a good night’s sleep, it’s hard to focus mentally and it increases stress and damages performance.
- It also increases the chances of having an accident. Insomnia weakens our reflexes. So when you have to make a sudden turn to the left because a nomad is driving like crazy in front of you, your slow reaction may cause an accident and pose threat to your life.
- Insomnia can also lead to mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression. Sleep is essential to regulate your mood throughout the day. Without sleep we are more prone to irritability, anger, sadness, and apathy – the hallmarks of depression.
- Insomnia can worsen other diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Sleep is an integral part of your immune system. Your body uses sleep for restoring brain cells and flushing out the toxins from your body. Without healthy restoration, you are more likely to fall sick and worsen other symptoms you may have.
If you have insomnia, don’t worry. Applying proven scientific solutions for insomnia can help you sleep better and improve your life.
Is it okay to drink coffee in the morning to wake up if you have insomnia?
“Coffee can make insomnia worse. You’ve got to remember that the effect of caffeine can be long-lasting. The half-life of caffeine is four to seven hours, so it will be in your system for longer than you think, affecting your behavior, your alertness, and your ability to fall asleep. I recommend avoiding all caffeine after noon.”
I used to take sleeping pills to go to sleep, but they’ve stopped working. What can I do?
As mentioned on Health.com, Lawrence Epstein advises that you should gradually stop taking medicines and treat your sleep problem with other solutions. “There are a variety of approaches that can address insomnia, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and meditation. These techniques can teach you to relax in bed without the aid of medication, if you have trouble doing so on your own.”
When and how should I seek sleep treatment from a sleep specialist?
Almost everyone has sleep problems at some point in their lives. If it’s a temporary sleep problem, you can find the reason behind it – an argument with your spouse, problem at work, jet lag. Such problems are temporary and typically end in a couple days.
If you have been unable to sleep well for a month or more, it’s advisable to see a doctor. See if you match the common symptoms of insomnia mentioned above. If you do, it’s time to consult a sleep specialist.
I don’t want to become addicted to sleeping pills? What are other effective solutions?
Sleep medication can be effective in certain cases, but it is not necessary. To have a healthy sleeping routine without using medicines, create a suitable environment – light it up during the day, make it dark at night; cut out the noise from TV or other sources; put your smartphone or laptop in the other room; and keep it cool by taking a bath, sleeping naked, or using an air-conditioner.
I suffer from depression. Is depression the cause of my insomnia?
Yes, depression can cause insomnia when it is left untreated. When people have depression, they form negative associations with their sleep environment. Instead of feeling relaxed at night, the bedroom is where they feel anxiety, fear, and sadness. To resolve this problem, consult a mental health doctor to treat your depression. If after treatment, your depression is alleviated but sleep problems still exist, consult a sleep specialist.
I fall asleep at the right time but wake up abnormally early. Should I take sleeping pills in the morning, what are other solutions?
Waking up in the middle of the night can be due to old age, depression, or advanced sleep phase: where you sleep earlier than most people, so wake up earlier too. In some cases, cognitive behavioral therapy works best, while in others, medication is the most effective solution. Even if you take medicines, take them before sleeping as a preventive measure and not when you wake up in the middle of the night. Talk to a certified sleep doctor to know whether you should take medication or not.
Is taking naps good when you have insomnia and want to feel rested?
You should take naps in the right situation. If you feel really sleep deprived and have to work or drive in a couple hours, then it’s good to take a nap to feel more alert. But if you have nothing significant to do, avoid napping and use the sleepy feeling to sleep at night. Taking naps during the day will cause you to feel awake at night. So weigh your options.
When I can’t sleep at night, I watch T.V. to kill time. Is it okay?
If you can’t fall asleep and are getting frustrated, get out of bed immediately. Staying in bed and forcing yourself to sleep will make it worse. Your brain will be conditioned to think that staying in bed makes you angry and frustrated. To counter this, immediately get out of bed and do something non-stimulating. This may include taking a warm bath, listening to music, reading a relaxing novel (don’t read non-fiction). You can also watch T.V. but only if it is relaxing as opposed to stimulating.
Greg Jacobs, an insomnia specialist at UMass Memorial Medical Center
Jacobs’ opinion on relaxation exercises
Changes in physiology by practicing deep breathing can produce brain wave patterns identical to the initial stages of sleep.
Jacob’s CBT-I program
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is better than Ambien. Jacobs was aware of the fact that not everyone can access CBT-I. So he created an online therapy program on his website cbtforinsomnia.com. Many research studies prove that online program is equally effective and less expensive than face-to-face therapy.
How effective is CBT-I as compared to other treatment options?
CBT-I “It improves sleep in 75 to 80 percent of insomnia patients and reduces or eliminates sleeping pill use in 90 percent of patients.” Improvement from CBT-I is long-lasting as opposed to short-lived effects of sleeping pills. CBT-I also helps alleviates depression and are twice as effective as antidepressants.
In other words, sleeping pills are a temporary and somewhat effective solution while CBT-I is a permanent and highly effective solution that not only treats insomnia but also alleviates depression.
Shawn Stevenson, Clinical Nutritionist has helped over 3000 people create a better lifestyle.
- Put your desk next to a window: Sunlight is the most essential ingredient you need to fix your sleep because our body uses light to set our circadian rhythm. So try to sit near a window during the day, so that you can get sunlight exposure.
- Use caffeine to sleep: This may sound illogical. But drinking coffee in the morning can help you set your sleep cycles. However, don’t drink coffee after 2 p.m. so that your body can remove all the caffeine from your system before bedtime.
- Avoid electronics at night: Blue light from iPad or laptop interfere with the natural sleep rhythms. As we mentioned before, light exposure is the key to fixing your sleep cycle.
- Sleep naked: Not only sleeping naked makes you feel free and comfortable, it also lowers your body temperature which is an important cue for sleep. Keep your room temperature between 16C and 20C, wear loose clothes or sleep naked.
According to research, insomniacs have a warmer body temperature at night than average, which makes it hard to sleep. In a research experiment, insomniacs who wore cooling caps containing circulating water slept faster than normal, healthy people. (13 minutes versus 16 minutes).
- Stop using a pillow: The ideal sleep position is sleeping on your back. If you sleep with a thick pillow, it may curve the spine in an unnatural way. So use thin pillows if you absolutely have to. If you sleep on your stomach, don’t use a pillow under your head as it will stretch your neck too much in an unnatural way. Instead, put a pillow under your stomach and hips to relax your neck and back.
- Exercise but not too late: Exercise is a great option to fix your sleep cycle. But doing it late in the evening can rev you up too much. Exercising late increases your body temperature and it takes a minimum of 4-6 hours for your body to cool down. So if you suffer from insomnia, exercise in the morning and not after.
- Use House Plants: Make your room a sanctuary – clean and invoking relaxing feelings. A great way to do this is to put in some house plants. House plants, such as the English Ivy, freshen up the air in your room and create a pleasurable ambience in the room.
Neil B. Kavey, Director, The Sleep Disorders Center at Columbia University Medical
(i) Could stress be behind insomnia or are there other causes as well?
You can try to find the cause yourself by attempting to recall the period when you first experienced a bout of sleeplessness. Is your insomnia fleeting, i.e. does it aggravate when you feel stressed and ebbs with its disappearance or is it chronic having persisted from/since a long time ago? At the same time, question yourself as to what stresses you out-is it your job or family issues.
If you find it difficult to unwind and relax towards the end of the day, it could be that you’re suffering from depression which also could be behind your insomnia.
(ii) How do I deal with my sleeplessness?
Regardless of what is causing your insomnia, strictly follow a disciplined lifestyle. For instance, start with having a fixed bedtime and wakeup time. If you’re planning to sleep for the mandatory 8 hours but having to make do with only 6, then try to increase the duration by quarter of an hour every weekend.
Do not work on the computer, watch TV or talk on the phone for long periods 1-2 hours before going to bed. Do not take a heavy dinner and see to it that you have it at least 2 hours before bedtime. Make the bedroom aesthetically appealing, keep the area free from clutter, and do not accept or make calls from this space.
(iii) Is it safe to take OTC pills and tablets?
Bear in mind that OTC medications offer only short-term relief and work best when you take them while you’re sticking to a regimented program. Over the counter drugs could lead to hangovers as well as make you feel exhausted and anxious if you persist with them. Pop a pill only when you feel you can’t do without it.
(iv) How to figure out that I need to consult a specialist?
Do not get overly anxious if you are unable to sleep for a couple of nights-many individuals experience transient phases of insomnia. Judiciously combining the intake of pills with a closely controlled behavioral plan can prove to be effective. Nevertheless, if the arrangement does not help, you know it’s time to consult a sleep expert.
(v) One essential attribute of insomnia that I need to be aware of?
Keep telling yourself it is absolutely normal to suffer from insomnia and that countless others are plagued with sleeplessness. However, do not give up on the problem by accepting that it is untreatable as both the short and long-term consequences could take a toll on your life. Consult a sleep medicine specialist if you have to.
Jack D. Edinger, PhD., Insomnia Researcher at National Jewish Health
Consulting a Cognitive Behavior Therapy Specialist for Insomnia Treatment
(i) When and how to figure out that I’m the right candidate for CBT-I?
There could be one or more specific pointers. You’ve been taking sleep medications for your long-term insomnia but have not benefited much and/or the sleep specialist was unable to pinpoint a specific psychiatric or medical symptom. You may not realize but taking daytime naps or remaining in bed longer than usual could keep you from falling asleep at night.
You could find yourself face to face with a CBT-I clinician when the aforementioned issues is keeping you awake at night persistently.
(ii) How to find a CBT-I clinician in my area?
Getting in touch with a certified sleep clinic is one excellent way of zeroing in on a CBT-I specialist.
(iii) How to establish if the clinician is qualified and experienced?
The CBT-I clinician will have the license to practice if and only if he or she has successfully completed a certificate program in ‘Behavioral Sleep Medicine’ offered by the Society for Behavioral Sleep Medicine’
(iv) What is so exclusive about a CBT-I clinician?
A CBT-I clinician is trained to offer treatment for behavioral insomnia rather than prescribe medications. They exploit cognitive therapeutic tools to help patients break the vicious cycle of sleep-disruptive routines.
(v) What to do if there is no CBT-I clinician in my area?
You can go online for browsing through behavioral treatment stipulations and read self-help volumes authored by seasoned specialists.
Wilfred Pigeon, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester
(i) Define Behavioral Sleep Medicine
Behavioral Sleep Medicine is all about discarding a wayward lifestyle and adopting a disciplined, regimented daily life for coping with sleep disorders. Instead of popping pills, the insomniac tries to bring about a change in his or her thought processes in a gradual manner.
(ii) Behavioral Sleep Medicine and Sleep Hygiene-are they same?
Sleep Hygiene happens to be a small component of Behavioral Sleep Medicine and comprises of some golden rules that are instrumental in inducing sleep in people on a routine basis. For example, cutting down consumption of caffeinated beverages, especially coffee and tea, switching off the TV 1-2 hours before bedtime, and using the bedroom only for sleeping and having sex, helps one to sleep soundly at night.
Besides following the above healthy practices, abiding by the three fundamental tenets of BSM- stimulus control, altering cognitive misapprehensions about sleeping, and sleep restrictions-can help in dealing with insomnia.
(iii) How to Take Advantage of Stimulus Control?
Get into the habit of staying from activities that might rob you of your sleep like working on the desktop or laptop, watching TV or calling up family members and friends for an extended conversation. Also, use the bedroom only for sex and sleep. At the same time, do not overstay in bed if you cannot fall asleep within 15 minutes.
However, getting out of the bed and leaving the bedroom is a stimulus control method that most people find difficult to stick to.
(iv) Will Stepping Out of Bed Lead to Increased Sleep Fragmentation?
Not, if you can judiciously harmonize sleep restrictions with stimulus control. Restricting sleeping hours is by and large, the most significant of strategies which most insomniacs find difficult to introduce in their routine. First, determine the number of hours you actually sleep on average and thereafter make it a point of going to bed and leaving the bedstead at the same fixed times every day.
(v) How many hours of sleep would be sufficient for most people?
Most sleep experts recommend 8 hours of sleep on a daily basis. However, on an average 5 to 6 hours of sleep can also be substantial.
More than 15,500 people with sleep disorders were surveyed for a study on insomnia and its related causes and effects. Participants were asked to offer their response based on a checklist of 45 symptoms related to sleeplessness.
‘Difficulty falling asleep at night’, ‘waking up during night’ and ‘daytime fatigue’ were the top three systems of insomnia. Other symptoms included restlessness, waking up too early, inability to concentrate on daily tasks, difficulty getting up, daytime irritability, forgetfulness, and anxiety in that order. A total of 116 treatment medications, procedures, and techniques were considered for rating in terms of ‘average effectiveness’, ‘popularity’, and ‘% reporting major improvement.
It’s always better to use solutions that are tried and tested. In this survey of over 15,000 people, many revealed different solutions. But the top three included exercise, sexual activity and keeping the room dark at night. There were some other solutions that ranked well too. They are:
- Taking melatonin
- Drinking less caffeine
- Shutting down TV/Computer/Phone at night and reading
- Listening to white noise
- Sleep Mask
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: The Latest Treatment Technique for Insomnia
Up till now, the efficacy of positive thinking was being tapped to turn no-hopers into go-getters. But of late, insomniacs and individuals beset with a range of sleeping disorders are being inculcated to gradually adopt a positive mindset. Nearly 10% of the adult US population has to put with multiple symptoms associated with sleeplessness such as difficulty falling asleep at night, waking up in the night, daytime fatigue and irritability, restlessness, and so on.
Recently, many medical institutions and sleep medicine experts are backing a new kid on the block in the world of insomnia – CBT-I or Cognitive Behavior Therapy for insomnia. The treatment process lays stress on sleep hygiene like going to bed and getting up at the same hour daily, refraining from oversleeping or staying in bed etc. However, the key attributes of ‘CBT-I’ are stimulation control and sleep restrictions.
In other words, you should quit damaging habits like taking excessive coffee or alcohol, watching TV or browsing on the smartphone before going to bed, and cultivate good sleeping habits. Fixing an appointment with a CBT-I clinician could be an issue as there are only about 10,000 of these medics practicing in the U.S. when the demand is for 100,000 professionals. But there are many effective online therapy solutions, so don’t fret.
Nonetheless, CBT-I is a very effective and innovative treatment procedure. The treatment process hinging on positive thinking proving to be highly effective for a good majority of individuals plagued with insomnia. CBT-I clinicians strongly recommend the process as the first line of treatment for those troubled with insomnia.
Lying at the core of the CBT-I are five essential aspects:
- Stimulation control: The sleep specialist controls your sleep arousal as bedtime approaches. They train your brain to produce sleep hormones at the right time at night. This can be done by maintaining a regular waking time irrespective of the previous night’s sleep. It is strictly recommended to avoid napping during the day.
- Sleep Restrictions: It is important to maintain a proper sleeping pattern and ensure that you sleep for at least 7 to 8 hours every night.
- Cognitive therapy: It means that the patient needs to stay enlightened about the common myths about insomnia. Instead of believing in them, it is better to challenge such limiting beliefs and form new, healthy beliefs about sleep.
- Sleep Hygiene Education: Making sure that your external environment as well as your internal mindset is healthy and conducive for a good night’s sleep. It includes keeping the room dark at night, avoiding stimulating activities and so on.
- Relaxation Strategies: Learning how to relax when you can’t sleep is an important skill taught in CBT-I.
Effectively following the conditions stipulated under the three aspects might go a long way in helping you to improve your sleep up to 70-80% as well as eliminate or reduce the use of sleeping aids to the extent of 90%. Follow these steps for coping with insomnia.
Regardless of whether you’re an acute or chronic insomniac there’s a lot you can do on your own to deal with the problem of sleeplessness. As an insomniac nobody knows better than you about the obstacles you face in your everyday life. So use the following self-help solutions to gradually cure insomnia:
- Manage your body cues. Our body has an internal clock: it depends on light, food, and our energy levels to go into sleep.
- Light: Put off the lights in your bedroom before going to bed
- Food: Have your dinner 2-3 hours before sleeping and eat breakfast at the right time
- Energy level: Engage in extremely light physical activities before bed. Don’t do a vigorous workout.
- Have a consistent bedtime routine. You can read, write in your journal, take a bath and so on. But don’t do anything stimulating.
- Stick to a regular sleep and wake up time.
- Keep potted plants on the bedroom’s window sill.
- Do relaxation yoga
- Eat nutritious and wholesome fruits
- Meditate for 20 minutes
- Be aware of the factors that causes stress
- Take a light dinner
- Reduce consumption of caffeinated beverages particularly coffee, alcohol, and give up smoking altogether
- Refurbish your bedroom
- Inhale lavender
- Consider sleep supplements like Melatonin and Valerian root
- Avoid daytime catnaps
- Unwind at your own pace
- Track your thoughts using a journal
- Tune in to your favorite songs
- Go trekking or camping: Being out in the woods exposes your body to the natural rhythms of light and is very effective at fixing your sleep cycle.
- Read books before retiring to bed
- Inhale and exhale for 5-7 minutes while in bed
There are many interesting ways you can cure your sleeping problems. So be patient with the process, try the self-help solutions and if nothing works see a sleep specialist.
You need to sleep for 7-8 hours every day in order to stay healthy. But it is easier said than done if you’re an insomniac. You could do without food, friends, and sex for days on end but sleeping at least for a few hours would be indispensable so as to hold onto your sanity. But perhaps nobody knows better than you that how tough it could be to get going from day to the other when you’ve been struggling to sleep.
There’s no need to lose sleep over the fact that you haven’t had a wink of sleep in the past few days. There are effective solutions that you now know. First, consider whether you need to make any lifestyle changes that are interfering with your circadian rhythm which puts the body in a sleep mode. Striking the right balance between CBT-I and a healthy daily routine will go a long way in enabling you to take insomnia in your stride.