HAVE INSOMNIA? HERE ARE THE “DOs and DONTs”
By: Dr. Charles Kravitz
Everyone has trouble falling asleep at one time or another. What causes that? Why do we toss and turn and get increasingly stressed out and just can’t fall asleep? We give up and then get out of bed, turn on the computer or the TV and lose another precious hour of regenerative sleep. And how did that work? Are we sleepy yet? At the end of this list of solutions I will give you my own personal technique which puts me into sleep within minutes- every night.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) give these causes for insomnia: stress, depression, diet, jet lag and other causes. Here are some of the “other causes” and their solutions.
1. Lights Out
Don’t let any light get through to your retinae. Light will stimulate your mind and get you re-energized. That’s the opposite of what you want.
Close the shades or blinds completely. Switch off all light-emitting devices- night lights, cell phones and computers. Those little blue lights are the worst. In the autumn and winter when dawn breaks earlier it would be a good idea to go to sleep wearing an eye mask.
2. Sleeping Pills
The side effects of sleeping pills are not worth any benefits that they may bring. Common dangerous side effects include addiction, memory loss and parasomnias like sleep walking. Long time use of these chemicals will slow down your reaction time and make you feel like you are always in a fog.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that moderates your sleep cycle. It will be produced when your brain receives a neurotransmission from your retinae that it is nighttime. You can trick your body either by blocking the perception of all light (eye mask) or by taking a melatonin supplement. A very low dose of melatonin will do the job and it should be taken about a half hour before bedtime.
Excess alcohol will fragment sleep and cause you to wake up every few hours. Don’t have any alcoholic drinks after dinner.
Save that glass of red wine for dinnertime.
Limit yourself to one or two drinks with dinner.
4. Up in Smoke
Nicotine, like caffeine, is a stimulant and, as such, will keep your brain racing and keep you from falling asleep. Add to this the withdrawal pangs and you have double trouble. So it’s understandable why smokers don’t feel well rested after a night’s sleep.
Did you really need another reason to quit smoking?
5. Speeding with Caffeine
We are well aware that caffeine is a powerful stimulant. That’s why some people drown themselves in coffee from waking till sleeping….. but how well do they sleep? Even one cup will have you speeding all day. It becomes an addiction. Caffeine will also impact sleep by increasing nighttime urination. And by now you have discovered that “decaffeinated” coffee also has some stimulating effects.
If you really love coffee but love your sleep more, drink your coffee before noon. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to seven hours. Herbal teas have benefits and are caffeine-free.
Here’s another solution- an apple will give you as much energy as several cups of coffee without the negative effects on sleep. Now you have a substitute.
6. Stay Cool
Melatonin production increases as your body temperature drops. Some authorities suggest sleeping with your feet outside the covers. An ideal temperature range for sleeping is between 65 and 75 degrees F. A warm shower before bedtime will help you feel sleepy due to the quick drop in temperature.
7. Consistent Sleep Schedule
Going to sleep and waking up at the same times every day (even on weekends), according to the National Sleep Foundation, is recommended for a healthy sleep.
8. Foods for Thought
A heavy meal, late at night, will force your body to use a lot of energy to digest the food. This energy will keep you awake.
Greasy and fatty foods before bedtime will cause reflux that can delay your sleep onset and interrupt your sleep according to Sandra Fryhofer. MD of the Council on Science and Public Health.
Have your dinner early and eat light. Have a balanced breakfast that includes fruit and a lot of protein.
Cherries and cherry juice are shown to increase melatonin production.
“When consumed regularly, tart cherries may help regulate the body’s natural sleep cycle and increase sleep efficiency, including decreasing the time it takes to fall asleep,” says Russel J. Reiter, PhD, one of the world’s leading authorities on melatonin.
9. Exercise and Yoga
Exercise and yoga may also put your body and mind to rest.
Note: I promised to give you my personal solution for falling asleep quickly. This technique has worked for me for years and also for friends to whom I recommended it.
Here it is:
I think of this technique as biofeedback, which gives you the power to use your thoughts to control your body and acts as a relaxation technique.
Here’s how it works: In a light-free, soundless room I get myself into my best sleeping position, which for me is on my left side. Then I start “talking” to my muscles, getting them to relax. I start with my toes and work up my legs, one muscle at a time. I am relaxing the tension in each muscle. By the time I have gone through my fingers and arms and into my shoulders I am in Stage One sleep. As with any learned activity, “practice makes perfect” so don’t expect immediate results. My latent sleep time now is about five minutes.
The role of melatonin as a play maker is evidenced within most of these insomnia solutions. Use these tips and instead of letting insomnia keep you awake you should be able to put insomnia to sleep.