8 insomnia tips to help you fall asleep without drugs

Difficulty with sleep is one of the most common patient complaints presenting to the primary care office.

Chances are, you will suffer from difficulty with insomnia at some point in your lifetime. It can be distressing, and cause difficulty with functioning during your wake hours. The first thing you may want to do is to run to the doctor for a prescription for a medication to help you sleep.

However, you don’t always need to rely on medications. In fact, insomnia can usually be cured on your own by simply changing your lifestyle and routines.

Resist the temptation to run to the doctor right away, and instead take some steps to treat your insomnia naturally before you seek your physician:

1. Adopt a routine schedule: Try to maintain a regular, routine sleep/wake schedule. That is, go to bed at the same time every night and awaken at the same time each morning no matter how sleepy you are. This may cause some difficulties the first few nights, but eventually your body will get used to maintaining the same schedule. Do not vary your weekend schedule by more than one hour from your weekday schedule.

2. Avoid taking daytime naps: People who nap have more difficulty falling asleep at nighttime. If you can skip your nap, you will find that you will be able to not only fall asleep faster, but will be able to better maintain your sleep during the nighttime.

3. Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine is a brain stimulant that interferes with good sleep. Alcohol may seem to initially help you fall asleep more rapidly, however it causes early morning awakenings and difficulty returning to sleep. They are also both diuretics that may cause an urge to urinate in the middle of the night.

4. Use the bedroom for what it’s meant to be used for: Don’t get into the habit of watching TV, eating, or performing any other activities in your bed. You want to train your brain into thinking that once you are in bed it is time to go to sleep. If you routinely engage in other activities in bed, your brain will be more difficult to shut down at bedtime as well. Do not use your bed for anything other than sleep and sexual intimacy.

5. Avoid bedtime high carb snacking: Avoid sugar or carbohydrates within two hours of sleep. If you are hungry, eat small portions of foods that promote sleep such as one glass of warm milk, turkey, or nuts.

6. Avoid nighttime fluids: Drinking fluids three hours prior to sleep causes an urge to urinate in the middle of the night. Try to drink fluids in the first half of the day, instead of at nighttime.

7. Get regular exercise: Routine exercise releases endorphins that decrease stress. This in turn increases deep sleep. Get at least thirty minutes of cardiovascular exercise daily, such as walking, running, or biking. Try to avoid doing this in the evenings, however, as the endorphins can cause brain stimulation if performed within three hours of sleep.

8. If you can’t fall asleep: If you are unable to fall asleep within thirty minutes, get up and do something relaxing, such as light reading or taking a warm bath. Then go back to bed once you feel sleepy.

If taking the above steps doesn’t cure your insomnia, then it’s time to see your physician to see if there are any underlying health conditions that may be causing your insomnia. Getting a good night’s sleep is so important to your overall health.

If you are unable to obtain adequate sleep, it can manifest itself physically and emotionally and interfere with your functioning and quality of life. Although taking the above steps takes some effort, it’s important to realize that it’s a process and may take a little bit of time to conquer. However, a good night’s sleep is well worth the battle.

Jill of All Trades is a family physician who blogs at her self-titled site, Jill of All Trades, MD.

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  • http://www.acmswellness.com Sharon M O’Connor, RN

    These are great suggestions and will help many people.

    Believe it or not, insomnia can also be an indicator of sleep apnea, a very serious and under diagnosed problem. It seems the subconscious knows it’s not safe to sleep, and therefore prevents sleeping.

    My work as an RN, certified hypnotherapist, also allows people to sleep at night. People report sleeping well for the first time (sometimes in many years) after having a private session or using my CD’s.

    Keep up the good work. Sleep is critical to good health.

  • anonymous

    These are the suggestions most commonly doled out to patients who complain of insomnia. Longtime sufferers have heard them time and again. They include useful ideas for some, but are insufficient for many others, and not because the latter haven’t dutifully tried them. It is an insult to patients who continue to experience insomnia to imply that they simply haven’t applied these tips diligently. Please at least acknowledge how little of the biology of sleep is genuinely understood. A comprehensive summary of the present state of sleep research (with full citations to the literature) can be found in Gayle Greene’s book Insomniac.

  • Recovering Insomniac

    Don’t think badly of anonymous (above) – s/he is cranky & sleep deprived.

    I’m not a medical professional of any kind – just a Mom – but let me offer the following tips/ideas.

    1) Don’t have kids or stress.
    - This may be unavoidable, of course – or you may decide that it’s worth it. If you have a small child, something that works surprisingly well is to take a *cool* (not uncomfortably cold, but as cold as you can be comfortable with) bath with your baby – you’ll both relax. if you are uncomfortable being nude with your child, wear your bathing suit or some undies that you can hang to dry afterwards. Blow bubbles, nurse your baby, sing a song (slow tempo, quietly), do some breathing exercises, play some classical music (with a radio/whatever outside the bathroom & far from splashing). Think of a few more things that may put you in a good mood and be relaxing.

    2) Install some block out shades. If you can’t afford this – I met a computer engineer and robotics expert who covered the inside of his bedroom windows with tin foil, which perfectly blocked out the light (his first thought was to paint the windows, but he was renting…)

    3) Is the room you sleep in quiet enough? Perhaps it’s too quiet? Put a fan in your room. Point it away from you if the breeze keeps you up. The noise will cover most ticking clocks, fridge noises, etc.

    4) Go camping. I’ve never slept better or deeper than under a canoe on the bank of a stream in the Appalachian Mountains. A (cheap) weekend (try a short trip the first time) of canoing, biking, zip lining and/or hiking and sleeping in a tent will give you the physical exercise and fresh air to allow you to see your life with fresh eyes. Leave the laptop at home.

    5) Change your diet. Go Vegan for 3 weeks. Too easy? Challenge yourself to go Vegan + Raw. (Easy in the Summer/Fall) Gradually (to avoid withdrawal symptoms) quit soft drinks, alcoholic drinks, tea & coffee, etc. and switch to just water. Try it for 21 days. (If you have a fixed amount of time to do it, you’re more likely to be successful.) If you feel like going for 10 days more at the end of 10 days – challenge yourself to 10 more days. (Still working on this one, personally.)

    6) Boredom has it’s own stress/anxiety. It’s counter-intuitive, but true. Make sure that you get excited about something every day. Schedule an event in the future, and think about how much fun or how interesting it will be. Keep a sticky note on the calendar near the event and add things to a list of what you’ll need to bring or what you will be in advance to prepare. If the event ends up being a little disappointing – don’t consider it a failure/disaster/whatever – instead consider it a practice run for next time. Schedule a meet up with a friend, a call to a friend or relative, a class, etc. Look in your local newspaper or google for local events. Make sure that you have a special time scheduled for each day – even if it’s only a 15 minute thing, and an event each week.

    7) Eat dinner an hour earlier – it may be taking longer than you expected to digest, and it’s difficult to sleep on a full stomach.

    8) Turn the TV off an hour earlier. It may take you longer than you think to wind down after watching TV.

    8) Change your vacuum’s bag and vacuum your mattress. You might not even be aware of a smell, dust, mites, or whatever bugging you and keeping you up.

    9) Get your clothes, briefcase, etc. ready to go for the next day. You may feel less stressed about the coming day if you know you’re totally prepared for it. Do you have enough cash in your wallet for incidentals? Check your credit card balance. What other paperwork might you need tomorrow? Put your wallet, keys, glasses, etc. in the clothes or jacket (or purse?) you’ll be using tomorrow. Put out whatever you need for breakfast ahead of time (that won’t spoil over-night). Now you know tomorrow morning will be friction free and pleasant.

    10) If your thoughts are racing, put them on paper. It doesn’t have to be pretty – no extra marks for neat penmanship or proper spelling, just do a brain dump. Make graphs or doodles when you can’t think of the words – don’t bust your brain, just get it all out. Don’t use a computer or other electronic gadget – that will actually wake you up more. Use an old fashioned pencil/pen and some paper.

    11) If you’re lucky enough to be in a monogamous relationship – have sex with your spouse/partner. An orgasm and some cuddling is the best possible sleeping pill.



  • Finn

    I’ll second anonymous: These are the same tips you’ll find everywhere and while they may be effective for some, they don’t help people whose insomnia is not caused bad bedtime habits, and as mentioned, sleep is poorly understood so treatment of sleep problems tends to be hit or miss. The experience of cancer survivors may help change this, since chronic insomnia seems to be an increasingly common side effect of some forms of chemotherapy. Researchers have begun to look into “chemo brain,” the cognitive difficulties caused by some forms of chemo; perhaps these investigations into how chemotherapy affects the brain will lead to some insights into how it affects the brain’s ability to achieve and maintain sleep, and therefore greater understanding of normal sleep and how to achieve it.

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