11 Things You Should Do to Treat Insomnia

Updated on June 24, 2017
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After three years, I overcame chronic insomnia. I am passionate about helping others do the same.

I would bet that you’ve already read about the common sense methods to treat insomnia.

They are worth noting again. The common sense methods contribute to good sleep habits, which is one of the key components to treating insomnia. Before you try any pills or prescriptions, you need the building blocks to permanently change your sleeping habits.

These common sense methods will not solve chronic insomnia itself, but they are a big piece of the puzzle.

Exercise

We’ve all heard this one before. I know you are thinking “I’m not sure how I’m going to do exercise on X number of hours/minutes of sleep." I can truly empathize. The last thing you want to do is move your body when it is in pain from not sleeping.

No one is demanding that you dead-lift your maximum weight over here, though.

Be gentle on yourself. Go for a walk. Try some body weight exercises. Go golfing.

Exercise serves 3 purposes:

  1. It physically expends energy. This is especially important if you have a desk job or sit all day. It is surprising how much our bodies want to naturally move, even when sleep deprived.
  2. You will feel better. If your insomnia is caused by anxiety or depression, moving your body for at least 20 minutes per day releases endorphins (which make you feel better) and decreases stress hormones like cortisol (which makes you feel worse).
  3. Exercise can be a time to get all of your worries out. It gives you space to think and sort out any issues you are currently dealing with.

I know that you are not feeling well. It is awfully hard to have the willpower to exercise, let alone when you haven’t slept.

I promise you though: it won’t kill you, and you won’t regret it.

Alcohol

Cutting out alcohol (or greatly limiting it) is one of the best things you can do while you are currently dealing with insomnia.

Having a drink can produce sedative effects and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. However, once it start metabolizing in your body after 3-4 hours, the rapid eye movement (REM) and deep stages of sleep will be disrupted – the stages that are the most regenerative for your body.

Essentially what is happening is alcohol is a depressant and your body tries to compensate by releasing stimulants. Alcohol kicks in first (a depressant) so you are able to fall asleep. As the effect of alcohol wears off, your body is still working to combat the depressant effects while you sleep so you are left with the longer-lasting stimulants. This is why you wake up earlier or have a less restful sleep in the second half of the night when you drink.

From my experience, while you are trying to treat insomnia and get your sleeping patterns on track, it is best to simply cut out alcohol or reduce it to no more than a 2 drinks when you do drink. This applies to weekends too. Finish your last drink 3-4 hours before bed.

Caffeine

You have already heard that if you drink excessive caffeine and are having trouble sleeping that you should cut back or stop drinking it altogether. If you do decide to keep drinking your daily dose of caffeine, here are some tips:

  • If you aren’t too addicted to coffee, switch to green tea. It typically has less caffeine than coffee.
  • Brew your own coffee at home. Coffee from chain restaurants can be very high in caffeine.
  • Brew your own coffee: half regular and half decaffeinated.
  • Limit yourself to only 1 cup of you drink of choice per day.
  • Drink caffeine before 12pm, ideally before 10am. The half life of coffee is 5-6 hours, and isn’t fully out of your system for 10-12 hours.

Chamomile tea

Chamomile tea is a wild flavoured tea with no caffeine with calming effects. One study found that it is a natural sedative because it calms your central nervous system. In this particular study, it was given to 10 patients and they reported to have immediately fallen to sleep after drinking the tea.

At times, I drink chamomile tea as part of a relaxing wind-down routine to prepare my body to sleep. If I do drink tea, I drink it 2 or more hours before bed so I don’t have to get up to pee in the middle of the night.

Melatonin

Melatonin is probably one of the first ‘natural sleep aid solution’ you came across when you began your research on beating insomnia, besides sleeping pills.

It is a naturally occurring hormone that helps regulate your 24 circadian rhythm. It makes you sleepy when it is released into your body from your pineal gland. Your melatonin levels are elevated for approximately 12 hours starting around 8-9pm, and are undetectable during the day. Taking a melatonin supplement is generally recommended over sleeping pills because it is non-addictive and has fewer side effects.

However, it is important to note that melatonin is NOT a natural sleeping pill. It is more like a signal to your body to prepare for sleep. It has been shown to be effective when combating jet lag, or in minor cases of insomnia where sleep is delayed by an hour or less.

You can find it in grocery and drugs stores, normally in a dose of 3mg.

Darkness

You have read that your room should be dark, so if you aren’t following this advice, please do so! Darkness is how the aforementioned melatonin ‘knows’ when to start releasing into your body, so light does in fact keep you awake. Do yourself a favour and get dark or black-out curtains.

Lighting

Turn off all unnecessary lights, and dim the lights that you are using as you are approaching bedtime (30 minutes to an hour before bed). This will help your body know that it should be winding down, and should start preparing for sleep.

Computer time

Turn your computer off 30 minutes – 1 hour before bed to create wind down time for yourself, and to avoid looking at bright lighting that may keep you awake.

Earplugs

Hopefully it goes without saying that if you are in a noisy environment, it can greatly affect your sleep. Whether it is living in a noisy neighbourhood or you have a snoring partner, earplugs can at least get rid of noise as a factor for a lack of sleep.

Temperature

Your body temperature naturally falls when your body is preparing to sleep so make sure that your home is not too hot. Conversely, being too cold can cause discomfort. Try to aim for a room temperature between 65F – 68F (18C-20C).

Bed and pillow

All of the aforementioned things to try (or avoid) assumes that you have a reasonably comfortable bed and pillow. If you are waking up with a sore back or hips, you may need a new mattress. If you wake up with a stiff or sore neck, try a new pillow. Beds are typically good for 10 years, while pillows should be replaced after 12-18 months.

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