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.