10 steps to manage your insomnia

People with insomnia often feel tired from lack of sleep and use stimulants to help them feel less tired, such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.

Some people have no problem falling asleep mid-sentence; for others, they can read hundreds of sentences in bed without feeling tired.

Not being able to fall asleep is a condition called insomnia, a common sleep disorder that affects between 10% and 30% of adults. Sunday Citizen has compiled sleep recommendations and best practices for people struggling with insomnia, citing a collection of medical and expert reports.

Insomnia makes it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, and without enough rest, it’s natural to be tired, grumpy, and foggy for the rest of the day.

Contrary to popular belief, this disorder is not determined by the number of hours you sleep or the time it takes to fall asleep; everyone is different in their sleep needs and how long it takes to fall asleep.

Insomnia comes in a variety of forms, each with its own set of symptoms, sleep problems, and duration of onset. Some of the most common causes of insomnia are stress, travel, lifestyle habits, and late meals.

Temporary insomnia usually lasts less than a week. When caused by stressful situations, it usually goes away after the event is resolved. Short-term insomnia lasts one to three weeks, but long-term or chronic insomnia lasts longer.

According to a 2018 study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, 1 in 4 people in the United States experience insomnia each year; about 3 out of 4 people recover completely without developing chronic insomnia.

This study shows the prevalence of poor sleep. However, by adopting habits that promote better sleep, some of the factors that cause insomnia can be managed.

See your doctor to rule out underlying medical causes

Various factors cause insomnia, many of which can be resolved with lifestyle changes.

Other factors relate to medical issues that a person may not be aware of, such as disturbed breathing due to sleep apnea. Seeing a doctor will rule out underlying medical issues that may be interfering with healthy sleep.

The diagnosis of insomnia often involves a physical examination for symptoms of insomnia-related medical problems. Doctors also examine sleep-wake patterns and the level of daytime sleepiness to identify insomnia and its cause.

If the cause cannot be clearly identified, a sleep study is performed to track and record a wide range of bodily functions.

This study paints a clearer picture of the underlying cause.

Keep a sleep diary to record your nighttime habits

Sleep diaries are a tool doctors can use to track how much and how much a patient sleeps. In these diaries, sleep patterns are recorded for a few weeks to identify items that may interfere with a patient’s sleep.

Sleep diaries can be as simple as a sheet of paper with a template guiding patients on what information to fill out.

For patients who prefer not to use paper, phone apps are available to track sleep and other vital information doctors might need.

Since the information required for different forms of insomnia differs, it is best to consult a doctor about what to include in the sleep tracking diary and for how long.

Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine stimulation

Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol are stimulants that can disrupt sleep. People with insomnia often feel tired from lack of sleep and use stimulants to help them feel less tired.

However, stimulants have been associated with sleep disturbances, resulting in a counterproductive attempt to treat insomnia.

Alcohol, which can also act as a sedative, prevents the deeper stages of sleep necessary for adequate rest. Caffeine is also a common substance in coffee, sodas and other foods.

Reducing your caffeine intake by opting for decaffeinated products is a good practice. It is also advisable to avoid consuming any of these substances at least six hours before bedtime.

Create a bedroom conducive to sleep

The environment in which you sleep contributes to your sleep or lack thereof.

Light and sound in the environment are two factors that affect a person’s comfort and the quantity and quality of their sleep. To sleep better, it’s a good idea to reduce light exposure and create a dark space.

Reducing unwanted noise with a fan or other white noise source makes it easier to fall asleep.

Bedroom comfort is also a contributing factor to how much an individual sleeps.

Turning down the thermostat to keep the atmosphere cool and lowering the body’s core temperature is also a great way to keep the environment comfortable for sleep.

Reduce screen time and blue light exposure before bed

While some can sleep with the lights on, others prefer the lights off. Yet, regardless of an individual’s preference, certain effects of light affect sleep.

White light, like sunlight, is made up of all the colors of the visible light spectrum, which affects alertness, hormone production, and sleep cycles.

Blue light, on the other hand, is part of the visible light spectrum. At night, it suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that makes us sleepy. The blue light tricks the brain into staying alert at night, making it difficult to sleep.

A good practice is to avoid blue light emitting devices or use blue light blocking filters on screens at least an hour before your expected bedtime.

Relax before bed

For a person to fall asleep, the body and mind must be in a state of rest. Sometimes the body is in a resting position, but the mind keeps drifting.

An excellent practice is to repeat relaxation exercises before going to bed. It can be listening to music, reading a book, or any other activity that helps you relax. These activities promote relaxation by lowering heart rate and blood pressure and improving overall well-being.

Research shows that these changes help us fall asleep. By relaxing, the body activates a natural process known as the “relaxation response,” which calms the mind, relaxes the body, and causes people to fall asleep naturally.

The trick is to be open to relaxation exercises, stick to a sleep schedule, and repeat the exercise regularly.

Try using mindfulness techniques like body scanning and deep breathing

There are mindfulness techniques that people say can get you to sleep at will. Although there is no research to support these claims, visualization and breathing exercises can help people fall asleep.

Body scans are a type of visualization exercise that involves paying systematic attention to various parts of the body. This technique is similar to that which would be practiced in the US military. The goal is to close every part of your body, from the forehead to the feet.

Breathing exercises are also one of the simplest and most basic ways to trigger the body’s natural relaxation response. This exercise not only helps reduce tension and calm the body, but it also helps strengthen the respiratory system.

Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT-I, is a brief, organized, and evidence-based treatment for the symptoms of insomnia. Treatment helps patients identify and replace the attitudes and behaviors that trigger or aggravate sleep problems with healthy sleep habits.

Unlike other treatment options such as sleeping pills, CBT-I helps patients address the underlying causes of sleep problems. This makes cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia a good option for treating long-term sleep issues.

The American College of Physicians suggests that CBT-I is the first-line treatment for insomnia; this suggestion is given based on the effectiveness of the treatment method. When CBT-I is used, 70% to 80% of people with primary insomnia notice improvements and the effect lasts.

Avoid taking too many naps

After a stressful activity, naps are a simple remedy. However, taking a long nap at the wrong time can backfire. For some people, short naps won’t affect their nighttime sleep quality, but for people with insomnia, napping can do more harm than good.

That’s not to say naps aren’t beneficial, but people need to understand how to get the most out of naps. The best way to take naps is to keep them short, create a relaxing atmosphere, and avoid taking late afternoon naps that can interfere with nighttime sleep.

Individual sleep schedules, age, medications, and desire to sleep all play a role in deciding the best time to nap.

Ask your doctor about supplements or medications

Some causes of insomnia do not need to be treated with medication. However, if medical causes cannot be ruled out, consulting a doctor is the best course of action. It is not recommended to use any medications, including over-the-counter sleeping pills, without notifying a medical professional.

Although some medications have been approved for long-term use, doctors do not advise taking prescription sleeping pills for more than a few weeks.

Some drugs, including class Z sleeping pills and benzodiazepines, can be addictive in just a few days. Suddenly stopping these medications can also lead to severe withdrawal symptoms.

A safer route is to have a doctor supervise the administration of sleep supplements such as melatonin or medications.

This story originally appeared on Sunday Citizen and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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