Sometimes I have a lot of trouble falling asleep at night, and I spend the day after just wiped out thanks to my insomnia. What can I do to get to sleep and stay in dreamland all night?
Whether its the fear of dreams of cannibalistic clowns, noisy neighbors, a snoring partner, stress, or just the inability to shut your brain off at night, insomnia is no fun.
While ongoing, chronic insomnia is a true medical condition that you should consult your physician about, we all go through periods of time where we just… can’t sleep. So what to do?
Sure, there are over the counter sleeping pills you can take — the vast majority of which are simply an antihistamine like Benadryl — they tend to lose effectiveness over time as your body builds a tolerance, and they can leave you feeling groggy and generally lousy the next morning.
The good news is, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the use of non-medicinal techniques you can use to help you get to sleep — and stay asleep — before trying the pharmaceutical route.
Sleep tight & don’t let insomnia bite
These simple behaviors, cleverly referred to by the University of Maryland Medical Center as “sleep hygiene,” are easy to implement — and to remember. Let’s take a look at some of their recommendations.
— Set a regular time for going to bed and getting up in the morning — and stick to it, even on weekends or vacations.
— Use the bed for two things only — sleeping and sexytime. Want to read/watch TV/do the crossword? Do it somewhere else. Let your body get the message that the bed is for sleeping.
— I love naps. Sadly, they can keep you up at night. Skip the nap, especially in the evening.
— Try a hot bath around 1.5 to 2 hours before bed. It alters the body’s core temperature and rhythms, which can help you sleep. Any closer to bedtime, however, will tend to make you more alert. Which is bad.
— Try reading, meditating, or other relaxing activities 30 minutes prior to bedtime.
— Don’t look at the clock. Don’t even think about it. You’ll just have that much more trouble conking out.
— Don’t guzzle a pint of water right before bed. Getting up to pee every hour won’t help.
— Speaking of liquids — stay away from caffeine a few hours ahead of bedtime.
— Even though eating a big meal may make you feel tired, it won’t help you sleep. Make sure your last big meal of the day is 4-5 hours before bed.
— Keep the bedroom cool and ventilated — a fan can do wonders.
— If you’re still awake after 15 minutes, go into another room, read or do another quiet activity until you feel very sleepy. Don’t watch TV and keep the lights low.
— If your partner is keeping you awake, try a couch or the guest bedroom for a few nights until you get your sleep pattern on track.
Now, if you’ve tried any/most/all of these over the course of a couple of weeks without success, then it might be time to talk to your healthcare provider — you might need to try a sleep study, or see if there is a medical problem that keeps you up at night.
There has been research done that suggests that insomnia may have a large genetic component, and that vulnerability to insomnia runs in families, and seems hard-wired in the brain. However, DNA is certainly not always to blame — nor does it mean that you can’t do anything about it.
Insomnia experts say
A Penn Medicine study from 2016 found that people who sometimes have insomnia, but don’t progress to the stage of having a chronic sleep problem, actually reduce the amount of time they spent in bed.
For example, the researchers said, if someone goes to sleep at 11 p.m. and wakes up at 5 a.m. — rather than when the alarm was set for 7:30 am — those people get up and start their day, rather than lie awake in bed.
“Electing to stay awake (rather than staying in bed trying to sleep) is not only a productive strategy for an individual with acute insomnia,” not the researchers, “but is also one that is formally deployed as part of cognitive behavioral therapy for chronic insomnia.”
The American College of Physicians recommended Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as the initial, first-line treatment for chronic insomnia, based on information that showed it could improve symptoms without the side effects associated with sleep drugs.
“Those with insomnia typically extend their sleep opportunity,” says Michael Perlis, PhD, an associate professor in Psychiatry and director of the Penn Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program. “They go to bed early, get out of bed late, and they nap.
“While this seems a reasonable thing to do, and may well be in the short term, the problem in the longer term is it creates a mismatch between the individual’s current sleep ability and their current sleep opportunity; this fuels insomnia.”
With all of this in mind, hopefully you will be able to make a few adjustments to your sleep, and be on your way for satisfying trips to dreamland in no time at all.