Getting a good night's sleep is an important part of maintaining good health. When you're consistently well-rested, research shows that your good sleeping habits will provide the support necessary for key hormones¹ and brain function², along with many other bodily processes.
In turn, the proper support of these critical functions allows you to meet the demands of a busy day, whether those demands stem from work responsibilities, family obligations, and/or challenging physical exertion.
On the other hand, if you frequently experience insomnia and don't get the sleep your brain and body need, you're likely to feel more irritable and easily fatigued throughout the day. You may suffer from periodic headaches or have difficulty concentrating even on the simplest task.
Overall, your daily performance at work and at home is likely to suffer as your daily mental, physical, and emotional energy levels remain compromised from lack of sleep.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by having difficulty falling asleep, remaining asleep, or both.
While almost everyone experiences an occasional night of poor sleep, either from a stressful day at work or after experiencing a traumatic event, chronic insomnia (lasting longer than a month) is often a side effect of something else that's occurring in your life.
This means your insomnia may be associated with an underlying medical issue, a medication you're taking, or a substance you may have consumed (e.g., caffeine, tobacco, alcohol).
Still, not every case of insomnia can be traced back to an underlying medical issue or a substance such as a medication or caffeine.
Sometimes insomnia is your primary problem, and it could be due to a long-lasting stressor and/or emotional upset in your life, frequent travel across different times zones, or having to deal with major shifts in your work hours.
Lastly, chronic insomnia could be related to a person's race or other factors. Studies³ show that if you're African American, you're more likely to take longer to fall asleep, you don't sleep as well, and you may have more sleep-related breathing issues than others in the general population.
In addition, women are more likely to suffer from insomnia than men. This is due to several factors⁴, including fluctuating hormones, and the tendency for women to experience depression, anxiety, and/or fibromyalgia at higher rates than males.
While some factors contributing to your insomnia aren't necessarily under your direct control, there are many factors you do control that can either support or detract from your ability to get a good night's rest.
Removing those lifestyle factors that prevent you from sleeping well while at the same time incorporating changes that support restful sleep are often enough to tip the scales in your favor.
Log your sleep
Creating a sleep log can help with insomnia by providing you with a record of the issues that detract from your ability to sleep.
Over time, you may notice that your notes frequently mention an uncomfortable mattress, bedding, or pillow that makes it difficult for you to fall or stay asleep. Or perhaps you repeatedly make comments about feeling too hot (or too cold) during the night, or you feel uncomfortable because of indigestion.
Whether you use a smartphone app, a smartwatch, or simply log your impressions on a piece of paper the next morning, noticing and correcting those issues that prevent you from sleeping well are the first steps to increasing your ability to sleep restfully.
Keep a consistent sleeping schedule
Just like for infants or toddlers, going to bed around the same time and waking up around the same time can help with insomnia by (re)training your brain and body. This means keeping a consistent sleep schedule throughout the weekends as well as during the week.
Over time, you'll begin to notice yourself getting sleepy around a certain time every day, and you'll naturally wake up around the same time each day as well.
Watch what you eat, drink, and smoke
It's well known that caffeine is a stimulant, and too much alcohol and/or a heavy meal ingested late in the evening can also make it difficult to feel comfortable enough to sleep.
Switching to non-caffeinated beverages at least several hours before your bedtime can be very helpful, as well as avoiding large meals, snacks, or beverages right before bedtime.
Drinking large amounts of any fluid close to bedtime almost always leads to frequent trips to the bathroom during the hours when you're supposed to be sleeping.
It may be difficult but if you smoke, try to wean yourself away from smoking near bedtime, preferably even a few hours before you intend to go to sleep. Nicotine is a known stimulant, which means it tends to prevent people from falling and staying asleep.
Establish a relaxing routine
When practiced consistently, a bedtime routine tells your brain and body to begin the process of relaxation. Taking a warm bath or shower before bedtime is a great way to unwind, as is removing any distractions such as tablets, laptops, etc. from the bedroom.
Dimming the lights, listening to some relaxing music, meditating⁵, going through guided imagery, or practicing a progressive muscle relaxation routine are all helpful cues that will help your brain and body learn when it is time to relax and go to sleep.
If you've tried everything to improve your sleep, but you still have insomnia, it's important to reach out for professional help.
A visit with your doctor can rule out any underlying health issues, and if it's a medication that is preventing you from sleeping well, they may be able to prescribe a different one.
Your doctor may also prescribe a medication specifically designed to help you sleep. Also, if they think some underlying anxiety or depression is causing your sleeplessness, they may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy³ to help alleviate these issues.
It's important not to underestimate the value of consistent, restful sleep. Getting a good night's rest is as important to good health as eating nutritious food and engaging in regular exercise. If you've made sleep-promoting lifestyle changes, and you still feel you aren't getting enough quality sleep, don't hesitate to reach out to your doctor for answers.
Insomnia | Medline Plus
Insomnia | Office on Women's Health
4 Meditation Myths, Busted | Cleveland Clinic
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