Many people suffer from sleep disorders, some minor and some major. Insomnia can take many forms, ranging from difficulty in dropping off to sleep to waking in the night and being unable to drop off to sleep again. Sleep disorders have a range of causes, both physical and psychological, but there are a number of things that we can all do to help us have a good night’s sleep.
It’s going to be hard to drop off to sleep if your bedroom is noisy, cold, or too bright. Often, “insomnia” is caused by these environmental factors. Adjust your bedroom so that you can darken it adequately and so you can shut out any noise. Try not to get into the habit of listening to music or other audio tracks as you fall asleep or lie in bed. If you have to listen to something pleasant to drown out unsettling background noise (for example, if you have neighbours throwing a party or if your house is on a busy road), then play gentle instrumental music (no beats and no words), nature sounds or white noise.
Make sure you are at a comfortable temperature, neither too hot nor too cold.
Ideally, you should reserve your bedroom just for sleep, making love, and getting dressed, plus other relaxing and soothing activities. This way, your mind subconsciously thinks, “I’m in the bedroom – it’s time to relax.” Of course, this means that things like work should be kept out of the bedroom (yes, that means that you can’t keep your home office in the bedroom). Likewise, you should try to avoid having intense discussions or arguments over domestic or financial matters in the bedroom – pillow talk should be light and pleasant. Also, banish your cellphone from the bedroom – whatever it is, it can wait until the morning!
Having the right routine before going to bed can eliminate what’s behind sleep disorders. Many people who complain of insomnia or who suffer from lack of sleep will watch an exciting movie and then wonder why they can’t drop off afterward. Before bed, it’s best to avoid computer games, TV programs, and the like, as they are too stimulating. There’s something about that blue screen (yes, even if you’ve got a plasma screen) that rouses the brain. Reading a book is a lot more soothing, and many people find that journaling or writing a diary (or writing a letter) is a better way to wind down.
Try to have a set bedtime routine so your brain gets the message that it’s time to wind down and go to sleep. For example, you may do some gentle stretching, have a drink, brush your teeth, put on your PJs and write your diary for the day as your regular bedtime routine.
We all know that coffee, tea and caffeine are stimulants and wake you up. But you’d be surprised at the number of people who complain of sleep disorders but have a cup of coffee after dinner or even later. So a good rule of thumb is to avoid caffeine after 3:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. at the latest – to let the caffeine work out of your system, so it doesn’t cause a lack of sleep. Grapefruit and other citrus fruits also act as stimulants, so avoid these in the evening.
Some people plagued with sleep disorders turn to alcohol to help solve their problems. While a wee dram may help you relax, the sort of sleep you get thanks to alcohol is not as refreshing and is closer to a coma. Don’t try to drink yourself to sleep – you will regret it, which can cause a bad habit.
What foods promote sleep and help overcome insomnia? Anything that stimulates the brain to produce tryptophan will work. Milk is one readily available food, and bananas and lettuce are others. If you tend to wake hungry in the middle of the night and then have problems dropping off to sleep again, cheese and crackers can be a good choice, as these take a long time to digest.
Certain essential oils can help promote sleep and reduce the stress that lies behind many sleep disorders. For example, lavender oil is famous for helping people relax and promoting deep sleep. A hot bath with lavender oil often works wonders, as both the hot water and the lavender relax you, but if you don’t want to have a bath, then dab a little lavender oil on your pillow to help you sleep.
When your body is relaxed, you will fall asleep. To overcome insomnia, banish all sources of worry or stress, and help your body relax. Deliberately slowing your breathing helps the body wind down, especially if accompanied by stretching and then systematically relaxing each muscle in the body. Using your imagination to take yourself to a “happy place” in your mind also helps you to transition into the dreaming state.
If worries are plaguing you and causing your sleep disorders, then deal with them. Write any concerns or things that need to be done down on a piece of paper, then set it aside – literally. Often, worries seem worse at 3:30 in the morning, but morning makes them not seem bad. Even realizing this “3:30 worries” syndrome can help break its power to cause a lack of sleep.
One common worry of people who suffer from sleep disorders is they worry about not sleeping, which causes a vicious cycle. For example, if you really can’t sleep, then get up and read a book (keep the lights low) for about half an hour before trying again.
More serious problems
Some sleep disorders have a more serious physical cause. The classic one here is sleep apnoea, where the sufferer actually stops breathing momentarily when they sleep, which makes them wake up (also momentarily) so they can start breathing again. If you have tried all the other remedies for insomnia and still can’t find a solution, consult a sleep specialist for further advice on sleep disorders.