Treating insomnia: lifestyle changes

November 4, 2015

Is insomnia making you grouchy and desperate for relief? Don't lie awake counting sheep anymore—try these helpful suggestions instead!

Treating insomnia: lifestyle changes

1. Keep a routine

  • "Good sleep hygiene" habits naturally promote better sleep. An hour before your usual bedtime, for example, get into a relaxing routine. Read or listen to soothing music. Avoid stressful activities, such as paying bills or completing work projects.
  • Consider taking a hot bath. Your core body temperature will rise and then fall, which will help you fall asleep more readily—and stay asleep. Don't take a bath just before bed, however, because it will temporarily increase blood flow and thus alertness.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same times every day, even on weekends.
  • And go easy on the naps. They're fine for catching up on occasional missed sleep, but napping regularly makes it harder to maintain a consistent sleep schedule.

2. Reduce anxiety

  • A crucial part of sleep hygiene is to keep stress out of your bedroom.
  • Limit what you actually do in the bed to sleep or sex. Don't use the room as a second study. If you do, you'll start to associate going to bed with stress and anxiety.
  • For the same reason, leave the bedroom when insomnia strikes. If you're going to be frustrated because you can't sleep, do it in the living room or kitchen.
  • Only go to bed when you think you're really ready to fall asleep.

3. Drink warm milk

  • A traditional remedy for insomnia is drinking a glass of warm milk, and there’s good evidence that it works.
  • Not only does milk help prevent hunger from disturbing your sleep, it also contains an amino acid called tryptophan, which is converted in the brain into a "relaxing" chemical known as serotonin.

4. Try progressive muscle relaxation

  • Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves tensing and then releasing all of the muscles in your body, starting at your feet and moving up toward your head.

5. Shut out bright light and noise

  • Install heavy curtains or blinds if you need to.
  • Earplugs will block out external sounds, or you can mask noises by running a fan or setting the radio to the fuzz between stations. You can also use a white noise machine.

6. Limit caffeine and alcohol

  • Don't drink caffeinated beverages after about noon.
  • And be sure to limit your alcohol consumption to one or two drinks in the evening. Alcohol can make it easier to fall asleep, but it also causes more frequent nighttime awakenings.

7. Start an exercise routine

  • Exercise is another key strategy for achieving better sleep.
  • It tires you out and also lowers levels of sleep-disrupting stress hormones. Just be sure to get your exercise at least three hours before bed.

8. Avoid stress

  • Try to get a handle on the stressors in your life.
  • If you're in the throes of anxiety, it’s harder to both fall asleep and sleep soundly.
  • Some of the best stress-beating activities include yoga, meditation and listening to soothing audiotapes.

9. Use herbs

  • Certain herbs have been used for centuries to ease insomnia. Available in various forms, from tinctures to teas, they induce sleep and soothe jangled nerves.
  • Valerian: A natural herbal tranquilizer, it can be taken at bedtime to help you sleep. It works best when you rotate its use with other sleep-inducing herbs.
  • Cham­omile: is a sweet-tasting herb that depresses the central nervous system in a way similar to anti-anxiety drugs.
  • Lemon balm: Also known as "melissa," it has a citrusy aroma. Its leaves are the plant’s medicinal part.
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