BASIC PREVENTIVE MEASURES
OUR BUSY-BUSY LIVES
Many people these days lead such busy-busy lives that they try to gain time by cutting down on sleep time - which is not a wise choice, as it turns out. We need a good night's sleep for our bodies and minds to get back into what we think of as "proper-alignment" - in order to deal effectively with the stressful days so many of us have in contemporary life. Here are some ways to help you on your way to a good night's sleep.
A NICE WARM BATH
How about a nice warm soak in the tub before bed? The immersion in a warm tub is decidedly soothing and calming and appears to have an effect on the brain that facilitates deeper sleep. And if you do this on a regular basis it helps to set your circadian rhythm so that you're properly tired when you get into bed. Add some fragrant bath salts or oil - or make it a bubble bath.Lavender, rose, cedarwood and jasmine are all lovely fragrances that are also calming to the soul.
And how about candlelight with that bath? Hides the mildew stains! - and upgrades the ambience of even the most offensive bathrooms. Add soft music... Lovely way to unwind. One note of caution, though - a hot bath too close to bedtime can be stimulating for some people, i.e., it'll take longer to get to sleep. Adjust bathtime to fit with your body rhythmn.
If you have been suffering from insomnia and you're a coffee drinker - or a cola or tea drinker - here is one of the most effective remedies for you: Cut down on your caffeine intake without delay. In fact, if you've been suffering from insomnia, it's best to avoid caffeine altogether once you've finished breakfast. That means no coffee, tea, cocoa or cola for the rest of the day - after breakfast. (Some experts advise stopping after lunchtime but as caffeine stays in the system for a long time we believe that stopping after breakfast is most effective.) If you're able to do this, you might be surprised by how much it will help your sleep ability.
You might also find relief by cutting down on your breakfast consumption of caffeine. You can do this quite painlessly by preparing your coffee with at least half decaffeinated grounds.
USE 50% DECAFFEINATED COFFEE.
In our household, we make great coffee using fresh-ground gourmet beans, 50% decaffeinated mixed with 50% regular. (We read recently that this 50/50 business is now called taking your coffee "schizo" (half and half - SPLIT - not all there...) 'Love that!
CUT DOWN OR CUT OUT?
We do not necessarily recommend that you go "cold turkey" on caffeine or cease all consumption. Some recent studies have indicated there are decided benefits (both physical and psychological) to caffeine when taken in moderate amounts.
If you do decide to cut out caffeine consumption, it's best to do it slowly, reducing intake over the course of at least a week or ten days, to avoid caffeine withdrawal symptoms (such as a "killer" headache).
CHOCO-HOLIC? COLA DRINKER?
If you're a choco-holic and suffering from insomnia, you should cut down on your onsumption of chocolate. It contains caffeine too. Ditto cola drinks. We know a fellow who had a stubborn sleep problem for years and years. Neither he, nor his doctor, nor his therapist, could figure it out - until a friend made a comment about his habit of sipping cola all day long. (That stuff can be sneaky.)
Don't eat a large, greasy or spicy meal just before retiring. Indigestion and stomach upset do disrupt sleep. A light snack, though, is fine - assuming you can afford the calories. Also - be sure you've eaten enough. It's hard to go to sleep on an empty stomach, too.
EAT PLENTY OF CALCIUM which is good for your bones - and therefore important - and good for calming you down and making you sleepy. If you take calcium supplements, pop one after dinner or before bedtime to aid in calming you down, as well as give you the calcium you need. Foods that contain lots of calcium are:
- Dairy products - milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.,
- Leafy green veggies
- Fish (some)
For more information about what to eat or drink to help you sleep, check out our segment on EDIBLE & DRINKABLE REMEDIES.
AVOID ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES!
They may seem to make you sleepy but really they can be disruptive of sleep patterns once you've fallen asleep and thereby prevent you from getting a fully restful night's sleep. We strongly recommend AGAINST using alcohol as a remedy for insomnia.
Smoking stimulates the nervous system. If you must smoke try to cut down on the amount - and try to have your last cigarette of the day at least two hours before going to bed. If you'd like help kicking the habit, there are many books and programs available - or call 1-800-LUNG-USA and they will send you some literature.
Some people find sexual release an effective aid in getting to sleep; men, it seems, somewhat more than women. (Big surprise!) However, sex revs up major bodily systems and for that reason may not be the perfect cure for everyone's sleep problems. Also, if there is relationship conflict, discord, tension or mismatch - or partner dissatisfaction, open or hidden - sex might aggravate more problems than it solves. Consumer Reports in its March, 1997 article on sleep, listed sexual release among the most popular antidotes to sleeplessness reported by its readers, but other research indicates that, technically, sex cannot be confirmed as being either effective or ineffective with regard to insomnia.
ONE OF THE BEST AIDS - to sleeping well is to establish a regular daily routine. That is, getting up at the same time every morning, and going to bed at the same time every night - as regular as clock-work. This kind of regular body-habit helps to set your circadian rhythm - (that's your body's natural internal operating rhythm) - so that you automatically become tired at night. You can reinforce this pattern by developing your own little rituals to do as you prepare for bed. Human beings are creatures of habit. So the more regular you are with performing your nightly rituals, the more they will help your system prepare to go to sleep in a timely manner. For instance, if every night at 10:30 you cover the bird cage, check the locks on the doors, wind the grandfather clock in the hall, take a bubble bath, read a chapter in your book and turn out the light - then doing that simple list of activities each night at approximately the same time, cues your body to wind down and get sleepy.
REGULAR BED TIME ROUTINE
Once you've established your routine, you might find your eyelids getting heavy as you start your bedtime rituals. If not, you might try adding more rituals or elongating the ones you have. For some people who have trouble falling asleep, going to bed 15 minutes or half an hour later helps them get to sleep more quickly. Establishing this regular nightly routine helps many people get to sleep at night.
SETTING YOUR INTERNAL RHYTHM
Rising in the morning at the same time each day, engaging in morning exercise along with a healthful, nutritious breakfast AND getting outdoors into the sunlight (a key factor), all help to set your circadian (natural, internal) rhythm.
WEEKENDS - But sleeping late on weekend mornings, apparently, can be counter-productive, because it disturbs that regular rhythm you've carefully developed for yourself. So even if you're tired, or sleep deprived, experts say to try and get up at the same time each day - even on weekends. We're not sure we agree with this advice, as we find sleeping late on weekend mornings, if we're tired from the week, to be one of the great pleasures of life - and, when needed, essential to our well being. But so many books and articles on insomnia mention this, we feel obligated to list it here. And, it's worth bearing in mind that essentially you do want to keep to a regular schedule - when possible.
COMPLETE YOUR DAY AT THE END OF THE DAY
Finish off your personal tasks - leave the kitchen clean, your desk neat, dirty clothes in the hamper, clean clothes set out for the next day, etc. Feels good to get into bed with everything "tidy" - and helps you give yourself permission to fall asleep quickly - and to sleep well.
Avoid physical, intellectual or emotional stimulation for two or three hours before bedtime. In other words, if you go to a fast-moving aerobics class in the evening, don't be surprised when it takes you a few hours to wind down and fall asleep. Likewise, seeing a very stimulating, scary or exciting movie just before bedtime can be the opposite of what you need to help you get to sleep. And by the way, the nightly news can be downright scary, too - not to mention horrifying and upsetting. We recommend against watching it just before bedtime if you're having trouble falling asleep and are susceptible to upset.
PROTECT YOUR WIND-DOWN TIME
We know a charming and popular - though sensitive - young woman who stops answering her phone at 8 in the evening because she doesn't want to be either over-stimulated by her witty, up-beat friends or upset by her difficult, demanding family, before her bedtime. She wants to be sure to unwind peacefully before bed without disruption.
BEDTIME BUFFER ZONE
Creating this buffer zone is an excellent way to unwind from the activities and problems of the day and get yourself calmed down and ready to go to sleep at the proper time. Incorporating such a wind-down time into your schedule - as part of your regular bedtime ritual - can be very helpful.
A SLEEP DIARY
Here's something you can do that can help you understand the root of your sleep problem better - keep a sleep diary. Before you go to bed each night, make a note of what you did that day, what problems you encountered in your life - and how you felt about them - what sort of interactions you had with people, what you ate and drank, when you ate it and drank it, what you did in the evening and what you did before going to bed. In the morning, note how the night went. Be as specific and detailed as possible. Keep this diary for at least ten days or two weeks and see what patterns show up. Perhaps you're having most of your trouble sleeping on nights when you've had a difficult day at the office - or at home - or with the kids - or your in-laws. Or nights when you've had a large, greasy steak for dinner. Or maybe you're drinking too much coffee - or too much cola. We know a fellow who had a stubborn sleep problem for years and neither he, nor his doctor, nor his therapist, could figure it out - until a friend made a comment about his habit of sipping cola all day long. Your sleep diary can tell you a lot if you will take the time and trouble to note all the details - even things that don't seem important at the time - like sipping cola throughout the day.
It's important to maintain good health - body health and emotional health. A major cause of insomnia is stress and/or anxiety - both common components of modern life. Take care of the issues that cause you stress or anxiety and your insomnia will probably lesson - or even disappear. Of course that sounds a great deal simpler than it is. But in general, one should address emotional issues as seriously and professionally as one addresses physical issues. We have more about stress and anxiety in our section on Emotional Issues.
LEADING A GOOD LIFE
Leading a busy, full and satisfying life is one of the best defenses against insomnia. It stands to reason that people who feel productive and reasonably happy, are less likely to suffer from insomnia than those who are dealing with difficult situations or other problems. If you are having difficulty creating a life that works for you - a life that feels good and satisfying and pleasurable - you might want to look at the personal issues that keep you from achieving these goals. You may want to consider getting professional help so that you can achieve your own personal goals. Take a look at our segment on Seeking Professional Help.
MAINTAINING GOOD HEALTH
Basically what you want to do - what all of us ought to do - is maintain good physical/mental health - because they're both part of one interacting system. It's not just your body or just your mind - it's both together in one interacting system. And maintaining that system in optimum shape is key to leading a satisfying, healthy and productive life. That's why it's important to eat right and do enough exercise or physical labor to maintain your body in healthy condition. This also aids in getting you truly tired before you go to sleep.
A healthful diet, proper exercise & hygiene - all of these help you to maintain a healthy body. And a healthy body helps you in every aspect of your life. If you are not physically healthy, or are in physical pain, that can keep you awake quite a number of hours. Of course if you have a medical condition that's giving you pain and you haven't sought medical treatment yet, is it any wonder that you're lying awake suffering? Try to remedy your pain or discomfort as best you can, as soon as you can - and of course consult a doctor in the morning - or immediately, if appropriate.
THE BODY AND MODERN LIFE
The human body was not designed to drive around in a car all day or sit and watch tv hour after hour; it is not designed to be sedentary but quite the opposite - we're intended to be sleek and efficient in our movements - to have musculature that aids us in hunting and planting and carrying our progeny about. If you've allowed your body to get fat and flabby, you have let a magnificent piece of machinery go to pot - and that may well be contributing to your sleep problems. The good news is, it's rarely too late to regenerate that machine into good working order.
They say the ditch-digger sleeps soundly. No doubt there's truth to that - as you know if you've ever dug ditches - or cleaned out the garage in a day - or done any other physical labor for several hours. Physical exercise is also good if you're tense or stressed or all wound up from something exciting or uplifting. Exercise helps you to relax and unwind - as well as to maintain good health.
HARD WORK & SLEEP
We know many Russian immigrants who are bright, educated people who have come to this new land where they are unable to practice the professions they knew for all their lives back in the old country. They have many, many practical problems. Many of them must do various forms of physical labor - such as delivering newspapers, caring for children or even house cleaning - instead of the white-collar or high-level professional jobs they had back in the old country. Yet most have no trouble sleeping! It seems that the hard work they do insures that they sleep every minute they can. There's a lesson in that for some of us fat-cat Americans who live the soft life and then have trouble falling asleep! Get out there and move that bod! It helps to make you sleepy at the end of the day.
WAKING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
If your problem is not so much falling asleep at night but awakening in the middle of the night and being unable to get back to sleep, you might try any of our 99 REMEDIES that seem appropriate, once you're awake.
HAVING TO PEE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
You should also limit the amount of liquid you drink a few hours before bedtime so that you lessen the need to wake up to urinate. The need to urinate in the middle of the night, while certainly normal for many, may be a sign of various medical conditions - from prostrate cancer to elevated blood sugar or diebetes - another reason to check with your doctor if you're having trouble sleeping. These are serious conditions that require medical treatment and should not be left untreated.
Awakening before you've completed your sleep needs can be a sign of depression or anxiety and if the problem persists it should be addressed by an appropriate professional. Please see our segment on SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP.
GET OUT OF BED AND BE PRODUCTIVE
Once you've been awake in the middle of the night for more than 20 or 30 minutes, it's best to get out of bed and try to do something productive. Once you get yourself involved in an activity you'll probably find that eventually you'll get tired again and can return to sleep. We present many possible activities in the segment called COPING ACTIVITIES.
You might also like to visit our SLEEPLESS BOUTIQUE. (Sorry - Temporarily closed.) It's got all kinds of interesting goodies in it - and we add more all the time.If you have been up for a while now and it's late - too late to get a good night's sleep - we offer some TECHNIQUES to help get you through the day when you feel wretched from sleep deprivation: COPING WITH FEELING WRETCHED FROM SLEEP DEPRIVATION. Also see: EDIBLE & DRINKABLE REMEDIES
ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS & REMEDIES
CALMING BEDTIME RITUALS.
We wish you good luck getting a good night's sleep!
If our website is helpful to you -
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why not visit our Sleepless Boutique and
order some goodies? -
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Thanks so much.