20 Ways to Beat Insomnia and Get Better Sleep

By Healthy Theory on 1 March 2010 (Updated 2 March 2011) 14 comments
Photo: jedi_andi

In the busy and driven world that we live in, one of the things that really seems to suffer is a good night’s sleep, regardless of our age. Unfortunately, these sleep deficits are not without their own share of adverse health consequences. Lack of sleep causes our bodies to react negatively, elevating our stress hormone levels and predisposing us to a wide range of disorders which include depression, heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.

In fact, there are some prominent schools of thought that believe sleep to be the single biggest factor that influences our longevity. It therefore goes without saying that we should all be taking the proper steps to ensure we are getting enough rest. After all, our lives could depend on it. So with this in mind, here are some simple and straightforward suggestions to assist you in getting a good night’s sleep.

1. Use your bed for what it was intended for.

In other words, only use your bed for sex and sleep, and partake in other activities, like reading or paying bills, in other places.

2. Avoid caffeine in the evening.

Indulging in caffeine in the morning is fine, but remember that it can stay in your system for up to 20 hours.

3. Do not drink excessive fluids before bedtime.

It may force you to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.

4. Avoid long naps during the day.

They can throw off your bedtime rhythm. If you have to squeeze in a short snooze, take a power nap of 10-15 minutes.

5. Get plenty of exercise, making sure to avoid strenuous exertion near bedtime.

Morning and afternoon workouts have the most benefit for sleep.

6. Be wary of OTC medication.

Certain drugs, like antihistamines and cold medicines, can make you feel groggy and tired. Check the labels and speak with your pharmacist or doctor.

7. Make your bedroom environment as comfortable as possible.

This means choosing a good pillow and mattress, as well as being selective as to who gets to share your bed with you, i.e., pets and kids.

8. Certain foods are believed to help sleep.

These include warm milk and chamomile tea. However, avoid excessive consumption.

9. Be regular.

Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day to condition your body to the routine.

10. Avoid alcohol.

Alcohol consumed within an hour of bedtime disrupts the second half of the sleep period, and continued nighttime consumption increasingly disrupts sleep.

11. Go to bed when you’re tired, and turn out the lights.

If you can’t fall asleep, don’t force the issue. Get out of bed and do something to make you drowsy, then get back in bed and go to sleep.

12. Reduce your screen time before bed.

This includes computers and TV. Try to avoid having a TV in your bedroom and falling asleep with it on.

13. Select a ritual.

Relaxing bedtime activities like taking a bath or listening to music can help you drift off to dream land.

14. Set your body clock.

Exposure to proper amounts of bright light (like the sun) during the day may help suppress our body’s production of melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone), thus making sleep easier in the evening.

15. Leave your worries for waking hours.

Perhaps easier said than done, but try not to stress about your daily worries once your head hits the pillow.

16. Avoid harsh alarm clocks.

When they jar you awake, they can leave you feeling drowsy and irritable. Instead, try a gentler alarm or soft music.

17. Do not sleep in.

As tempting as it may be, sleeping late is like a nap and can throw off your body’s rhythms, making sleep the next night even harder.

18. Pay attention to your snoring.

It could be a sign of another problem, including sleep apnea, which can lead to health problems, not to mention compromise your sleep.

19. Meditate.

Certain meditative techniques can quiet your mind enough to allow you to fall asleep.

20. Use sleeping pills as a last resort.

Consult with your doctor before taking any sleeping medication, which can have adverse interactions with other medication.

Editor's note: Alcohol tip has been revised based on reader feedback.

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Guest's picture
Colin

Alcohol is *NOT* a stimulant, it is a nervous system depressant! In fact, research has shown that moderate doses may be used in insomniacs to improve sleep.

Guest's picture

I have found that alcohol brings a deep sleep but only for several hours. Then the old eyeballs pop open and stay that way til it's time to get up.

Guest's picture
Raven

I would love to see that research. Alcohol is a depressant, and like most depressants, after the depressant affect wears off, you become more alert. That's why the article stated that it interferes with the "second" half of your sleep cycle, not the first. That's why after drinking alcohol you may "pass out" but wake up about 4 hours later and are unable to fall back to sleep.

This works the same way having too much of a stimulant may work for a few hours, but them you crash and want a nap. That is why coffea, or coffee, is recommended for insomnia in homeopathy. At first, you are more alert, but when you crash, you'll sleep like a baby.

Guest's picture

Quit trying to go to sleep! Trying will never work.

Thinking about a task or problem will keep you awake. Since you cannot think of two things at the same time change your thoughts to something pleasant and peaceful, real or imaginary, dull and stationary. A peaceful walk by a calm lake with still waters, or a speck on the wall.

And if that can't be done get out of bed and do an easy crossword, watch some dull, quiet, stupid TV, with or without a light snack. Even an hour or two seems unacceptable, but if deep sleep comes for the remainder of the night it's worth it.

Quietly relaxing in the latter part of the evening is most helpful in preparing for a restful sleep. Exercise, physical or mental, is stimulating and if done approaching bedtime might put you in a wide awake state that will not unwind easily.

Guest's picture

i do all sorts of things on my bed from sleeping to writing uo blog posts to watching movies,music everything. its amazing that most of the time(apart from last night)i have a good nights sleep. i think is that most of the time i say a short prayer to God in heaven thanking him for the ended day, it seems to work. sometimes i even drink very strong coffee and still sleep. the only thing that seems to keep me drifting off is loud irregular noises just before i drift off, like a neigbour playing loud music or something like that.i like the post btw

Guest's picture
Guest

alcohol = depressant. not a stimulant.

Guest's picture
KellyC

Once I started to pay attention to how caffeine was affecting me, I began to sleep much better. If I have tea in the morning and at around 3:00pm (when I really want a nap!), I sleep just fine. If I have a serving at lunch as well, I have a terrible time getting to sleep. I was unaware of this for a very long time; I drank tea early enough that I thought it wouldn't affect me 8 hours later. But it is the amount that really gets me.

Also, I find that it helps to do my face-washing and tooth-brushing an hour or so before I go to bed. If I do these just before, it wakes me up!

Guest's picture
Guest

Try replacing sleeping pills with calming audio books - it works for me!

Guest's picture
Sarah

Sadly, there are some types of insomnia that none of these will work for. My boyfriend has a circadian rhythm disorder that causes him horrible insomnia, and nothing seems to help.

Guest's picture
kyle5434

I've been taking 200mg of SamE this winter to help combat SAD, and I've found that I've been sleeping more soundly as a side effect.

Guest's picture
Guest

Yes, I also found this hard to take seriously because of the alcohol mistake. Definitely not good for sleep but definitely not a stimulant. The best help for me is a rich full day and an "oh well" attitude at night.

Guest's picture

The rule for sports is no more exercise 4 hours before you go to bed. But yes exercise is a good and healthy way to sleep better and it's just healthy really :)

Guest's picture
Guest

The post said:

Exposure to proper amounts of bright light (like the sun) during the day may help suppress our body’s production of melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone), thus making sleep easier in the evening.

This doesn't make sense - I think instead of "suppress" you probably meant "stimulate." Yes?

Guest's picture
Thyme

No. You dont understand how chemicals and the body works.
By suppressing melatonin during the day, you feel it more at night (through increased sensitivity and upregulation)

sensitivity analogy example: if one day you wait 12 hours after waking up to drink your first cup of coffee, youll feel it stronger than if youd spaced out the cup throughout the day. By abstaining from caffeine your sensitivity to it increases.

regulation analogy example: if you take testosterone all the time, your body starts making less of it naturally. likewise, if you SUPPRESS melatonin during the day, you get a bigger dose of it at nighttime- your body releases more of it at once.