7 Healthy Ways to Fight a Bout of Insomnia
The Common Problem of Acute or Incidental Insomnia
Insomnia is a problem that many people confront at least once in a while. Some of us, unfortunately, confront it quite a bit more than others. Many people have a go-to method of trying to resolve it. When their usual solution fails, feelings of helplessness and frustration may set in—along with anxiety about how to make it through the next day without proper rest. This can induce a vicious cycle of anxious wakefulness that may result in very little sleep, or in the worst-case scenario, a completely sleepless night. Fortunately, there are many ways to counteract this nighttime hazard.
The tips I provide below are far superior, in my opinion, to taking sleeping pills. Sleeping pills are certainly very effective at their job, but they will also reduce the quality of your sleep. In addition, they can make it more difficult to wake up in the morning. Poor-quality sleep and grogginess in the morning can lead to the same daytime fatigue you will get from shortened sleep.
Since my teenage years, I have periodically suffered from insomnia. I have tried all of these methods with a considerable degree of success. I am confident that more than one of these tips will work for you, as well.
An important caveat regarding chronic insomnia: The methods discussed here are helpful for acute and incidental insomnia. While these methods can also be used for chronic insomnia, other measures should be taken to properly address that condition. You may need to see a doctor or medical professional to evaluate your situation.
Tip # 1 - Calming Music
This is one of the oldest known remedies in the book. For millennia, parents have been using this on their restless children. There is a reason the lullaby has been around for so long. It is a fix that has stood the test of time. If you are an adult whose partner is also trying to sleep, chances are you have nobody to sing to you. Fortunately, in modern times, we have recorded music. Not just any music will do, however. No matter how much you might be a fan of it, don’t turn on the heavy metal for this purpose. Opt for music of the lullaby tempo and light, airy rhythm and beat. Spa and meditation music are among the best options. Easy listening and ballads are also good alternatives.
Tip # 2 - White Noise
In the realm of sounds, there is an effective alternative to music. White sound, more commonly referred to as white noise, is a steady, droning sound that can have a lulling effect. If it is raining, cracking your window open can be an option, temperature permitting. Another popular source of white noise is a fan, with its low, whirring sound of the spinning blades.
If neither of those work, or if you are looking for variety, sleep sound machines carry many options. Sound effects such as waves washing ashore, flowing brooks, and even heartbeats are available to fit your preferences. Many of these also come with timers, so they will not have to run all night once you’ve fallen asleep. Some brands also have features such as waking alarms and radios. I have found the HoMedics SS-2000G/F-AMZ model to have a pleasant decibel level. It is able to dull the sound of outside chirping birds without being overly loud.
If you prefer a white noise source with a draft, Honeywell makes ideally-sized models such as the HT-900. The varying speed sets have a stark contrast in both blowing strength and noise level. One of the settings will fit the comfort level of most people.
Tip # 3 - Literally Use Your Imagination, or Memory
It could be a fantasy, it could be an actual memory, or it could be just a setting in which you are mentally placing yourself. This is what is commonly known as “your happy place.” When picking a happy place, or event, to help you relax your mind enough to drift to sleep, make sure you do not choose something that is action packed. Instead, fix your mind on something that was a soothing experience, such as your last professional massage, or maybe your favorite beach, or perhaps your mental picture of your ideal beach.
Tip # 4 - Drink Your Way to Sleep (Without Alcohol)
In nature’s bounty, there are also many drinkable concoctions that can not only help you fall asleep, but can also improve the quality of your sleep. There are more than a few herbal teas which accomplish this task, chamomile is probably the most noted. However, there is no one best for everyone, as there are variances in responses for each individual. Peppermint tea, as well as some fruity teas are also often successful.
Cherry juice is another effective option. Among the many health benefits of the cherry is its ability to stimulate the body into naturally producing melatonin.
It is important that you avoid alcoholic beverages if you are having trouble sleeping. While a quick shot of liquor may sound like a quick cure in making you drowsy, sleeping with alcohol in your system will reduce the quality of rest, as it affects the rapid-eye movement stage.
Tip # 5 - Get Your Eyes Away From the Clock
We have all done it. Laying there after a few hours, unable to fall asleep, and then we notice the time. The alarm clock near our bed. Next, the calculations start in our head. “It’s 2:30 AM, and I have to be up in 5 hours.” Naturally, this induces at minimum a low level of anxiety as we start to wonder if we are going to get any sleep tonight.
You do not have to be a sleep expert to know that anxiety is the enemy of sleep. The next step in this vicious cycle is beginning to fixate on the clock, and the continually elapsing time, which introduces more frustration. The answer to this problem is to reach over and turn your alarm clock around so that you cannot see the time. If you are going to attempt thought or meditation techniques, it is even more critical that you not have this daunting distraction directly accessible to your eyes. You need to fixate on your calm, happy place, or your breaths without anything to easily take your mind off of them. Out of sight, easier to put out of mind.
Tip # 6 - Try Sleeping in Another Area
The role that the surface you are laying on, as well as temperature, should also not be underestimated in its importance. Perhaps you are hot, and taking a cover off is not helping. If you take all the covers off, you will be too cool. A change of surface for the night may be necessary. Grab a blanket, get out of your bed, and head to the couch, or your reclining chair. Another alternative is an open guest bed, if you have one.
When you relocate to another place in the house, make sure you darken the particular room if it is a habitually lit area. Darkness increases the production of melatonin, and will result in better REM sleep. If If you have to be up at a certain time for work or other commitment, since you are already partially deprived of sleep, you will also probably need your alarm to prevent oversleeping. So bring your alarm clock with you, or set your alarm on your cell phone, and remember to turn it so the time is out of your sight.
Tip # 7 - Lightly Stretching Your Muscles
There is also a possibility that you are losing sleep because of muscular tension. The state of sleep is your body in its most relaxed state. Part of transitioning from the state of wake to sleep is the conscious relaxing of both mind and body. If it is not your mind that is running too actively, perhaps your muscles could use some relief. This is especially true for the neck and shoulder muscles. Try sitting up and doing 5-10 minutes of stretching.
The stretching exercises should be low-energy, static, and not forced. Do not perform dynamic stretching such as lunges and kicks. Raising your heart rate when you are trying to sleep will make the problem worse. The best stretches to do are
- Neck rolls
- Shoulder rolls
- Cross-body arm stretches. This will also stretch out the latissimus dorsi.
- Scapular settings
You can also do stretches involving the legs, but do not push them to their absolute limit. All stretches involving rolls should be done slowly and deliberately – do not rush your repetitions. Neck and shoulder stretching is also an effective method of preventing tension headaches.
The book Stretching: 30th Anniversary Edition contains a wealth of information that can be useful for far more than a bout of insomnia. If you are a cyclist, weightlifter, or take part in other forms of recreational or competitive athletics, this book will serve you well as a stretching guide.