Insomnia is a problem for millions of people around the world. It seems to be a particularly modern problem; there’s a lot of inviting technology to enjoy instead of sleeping. For other folks, stress and anxiety rob their sleep. Prolonged insomnia is hard on the body; it taxes the glandular and immune systems in particular. If you are one of the many people who find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, take heart: you’re not alone, and there are non-medicinal ways to treat insomnia.
1. Keep the bedroom a quiet space
Good sleep is encouraged by a restful space (obvious, but worth mentioning). To make your bedroom more restful, keep it just for sleeping. If your home is a studio apartment, curtain off the bed to make another “room”. Seventy degrees Farenheit or cooler invites sleepiness; hot rooms make people restless. Black out windows with curtains or wear an eye mask if there’s a lot of ambient light in your bedroom, and wear earplugs or use a white noise machine to level out exterior noise.
2. Cut out caffeine after noon
This point seems obvious, but as western civilization seems to run on caffeine, it’s good to point out. Caffeine lingers in the bloodstream, so if you drink an espresso at three in the afternoon, it can still keep you alert and jittery at ten that night. Soda, black tea, coffee, and sports drinks all contain caffeine—what else is in them determines whether or not they’re actually good for you. A cup of black coffee with no sugar has healthful antioxidants, and, so long as you drink it before one in the afternoon, should not keep you awake at eleven at night.
3. Keep to a schedule
Like everything else living on earth, humans have biorhythms. If you go to sleep at the same time every night, and get up at the same hour every morning (including weekends), you’ll sleep better, because you’re giving your body a reliable schedule to work with—that’s what it likes. A regular sleep schedule will help you sleep more soundly, and for about the same length of time; after a while, you’ll wake up without an alarm clock, having slept as long as you need to.
4. No alcohol, no nicotine
We don’t mean ever, just before bed. Alcohol, though it makes people sleepy at first, can ruin a decent night’s sleep. Alcohol is hard for the body to break down; the liver and kidneys must work overtime to move it out. The work of detoxification interferes with sleep, and sometimes wakes the body up outright. A minimum of five hours before sleep is needed to cycle out the alcohol—though it’s not totally gone for closer to fifteen hours. While alcohol is a depressant, nicotine is a stimulant, perking up the brain. Nicotine can keep people too alert to get sleepy; avoid it for an hour before bed.
5. Drink chamomile tea
Sleep aids, whether prescription or over the counter, are highly addictive and carry strong side effects. Before you resort to those, try a mug of chamomile tea, a natural sedative. Valerian root, kava kava root, and skullcap are also excellent herbs for treating insomnia. Three tea bags is a rough equivalent of an herbal medicinal dose, if you were brewing the tea with the fresh leaves and blossoms.
6. Reduce stress in the evenings
This offering makes many people shake their heads—how on earth does someone reduce stress, possibly the very thing that’s keeping them awake? There are different kinds of stressors: money is a popular one, but relationship trouble and bad jobs are right up there. If you stay alert to your actions and how you feel after (keeping a journal helps here too), you can learn to avoid stressful situations before bed. Violent TV shows and computer games (any TV or video games actually; they stimulate the brain and senses), intense discussions or arguments, strenuous exercise—all of these can keep you awake. Instead, turn down the lights to a comfortable level, and read a book or listen to calming music to quiet your mind and body.
7. Sleep diaries
Humans are habitual creatures—we like to do the same things over and over, without always realizing what we’re doing. If you want to change your habits, you have to identify them first. Towards this end, maintain a diary of your daily activities, to see which behaviors are affecting your sleep. Drinking coffee late in the day? Eating a big meal at ten p.m.? Both will hinder solid sleep.
8. Only nap when necessary
Naps can be grand; they help with daytime alertness and energy levels, and they feel like a luxury (or a necessity). However, an afternoon nap can interrupt nighttime sleeping, depending on length and time of day. A nap of thirty minutes or more, or after three in the afternoon may disturb sleep at night. If you must nap, after you wake, walk outside into the sun, or stretch your body; it’s important to completely reawaken the body, instead of stumbling around in a half-coma.
9. Stay away from backlit devices before bed
Staring at a backlit device—smartphone, iPad, Kindle, computer screen—before bed is not recommended, for a few reasons. First, without adequate ambient light (and a dark bedroom is not adequate light), reading from a screen strains the eyes, and can lead to permanent damage. And the other reason is that this light interferes with melatonin, a hormone the brain releases to regulate the sleep/wake cycle.
10. Up the natural daylight and cut out artificial light at night
Melatonin production is increased with exposure to natural light—sunlight or, in the middle of winter, a full-spectrum artificial light source. The stronger your melatonin levels, the better you’ll sleep. Turning on lots of artificial lights at night will mess with melatonin, and keep the brain too alert—try not to keep many lights on at night. In your bedroom light fixtures, keep low-wattage bulbs, and avoid the backlit screens.