At the end of a long day, when you put your head down on your pillow, you expect that you should be able to fall asleep instantly. But for you, things aren’t so simple. Although you may feel tired, you continue to have trouble sleeping, sometimes for hours into the night. Is this just a case of restlessness or do you have something more serious, like a sleep disorder?
About 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, making them quite common. Many more Americans experience short sleep duration. Whether you have a sleep disorder or not will best be diagnosed by a health professional, but if you are consistently having trouble falling asleep even when exhausted, there is a chance that you are suffering from insomnia.
Insomnia affects people in one or more of three ways:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Waking too early
If you’re one of the unlucky people who find falling asleep at night to be a trial no matter how tired you are, then consider making some changes to your life and your habits. In this post, we’ll be going through some tips on what changes you can make to help you fall asleep on time and wake up feeling refreshed.
How Do People Develop Insomnia?
Insomnia is a common health complaint, with between 9 percent and 15 percent of the adult population suffering from chronic insomnia, with 15 percent to 20 percent of the adult population complaining of occasional sleep difficulties. Insomnia is more common among women and older adults.
Insomnia happens when you disrupt your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock, which guides your sleep-wake cycle and releases hormones that either stimulate rest or jolt you awake.
Many things can disrupt your circadian rhythm, including your internal state. For example, stressful life events and stress are associated with the start of insomnia in sufferers. Other lifestyle factors and behavioral facts can also cause someone to develop insomnia. These include:
- Travel or work schedule that keeps you up late. Jet lag or working night shifts affect your body’s sleep patterns.
- Poor sleep habits. We’ll talk more about what poor sleep habits look like later.
- Eating too much late in the evening. This can cause things like heartburn, which will keep you up at night.
- Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol consumption. Some people are very sensitive to these substances, and their consumption can lead to insomnia.
- Medical conditions and medications. Insomnia is a side effect of medical conditions like chronic pain, cancer, and diabetes. Many medications can also interrupt your sleep cycle, leading to insomnia.
- A family history of insomnia. Fifty-five percent of people with childhood‐onset insomnia and 39 percent of patients with adulthood-onset insomnia had a family member who suffered from insomnia as well.
While there are some causes of insomnia that are out of your control, many are within your ability to change. In fact, research from the University of Alabama points out that true insomnia is rare. Most people who feel that they are insomniacs in fact sleep quite a bit throughout the night when observed. It’s often the idea of a lack of sleep that worries people more than actually being unable to sleep.
Let’s look at the main things you can do to diminish your insomnia.
Establish a Regular Bedtime Routine
Practicing good sleep hygiene is an important factor when it comes to getting good quality rest. Here are the steps to fix your sleep hygiene and create a bedtime routine that helps you fall asleep instantly.
- Get your bedtime right. Too early and you will struggle, too late and you’ll miss your window of opportunity. 10:30 p.m. is a good bedtime for an adult.
- Avoid caffeine. We all love our morning coffee but don’t be tempted to hit the coffee shop up for an afternoon boost. Limit caffeine consumption to before noon every day.
- Avoid spicy or processed foods after lunchtime. Your digestive system is a sensitive part of your body and too much spice or chemical input will upset it and cause it to work too hard. This can have an adverse effect on the chemicals in your brain that help you fall asleep. These foods can also cause heartburn.
- Keep calm and stay away from electronics. Avoid using electronics close to bedtime. Not only are electronics overly stimulating, the blue light emitted from many screens mimics the blue light which comes from the sun. This confuses your body into thinking that it is daytime, which inhibits sleep-stimulating hormones, such as melatonin, from being released into the bloodstream. Reserve the hour before bedtime for quiet, calming activities such as reading, listening to soothing music, and meditation.
- Don’t lie in bed. This one sounds a little odd…how are you meant to fall asleep without lying in bed? The key is not to lie in bed wide awake for hours. If it’s been more than 20 minutes, get up and go to another room. Listen to music for a while or read. Drink some water. Try again after half an hour or when you are feeling sleepy.
- Do things in the same order every day. Try to wind down in the same order every day. For example, in the hour before bedtime, you can brush your teeth, do 10 minutes of meditation, and lie in bed until bedtime reading a book before shutting off the lights and falling asleep. This trains your mind and body to expect sleep at a certain time and after certain steps.
If you are lying awake every night mulling over your thoughts, it may be helpful for you to incorporate a stress management routine into your day. You can consider wearing the Spire Stone, which is a great way to stay calm all day long. It reads your breathing rate and sends you alerts when you are falling into a state of stress.
And if you’re really looking to up the ante, consider integrating the Spire Health Tag. These come in packs that can be attached to all of your clothing, including your underwear and pajamas, and track every aspect of your lifestyle, including your sleep patterns. It tracks your sleep quality and suggests small changes you can make to get better rest.
How to Deal With Waking Up at Night
Insomnia isn’t just about not being able to fall asleep. It also has to do with waking up in the middle of the night and finding you can’t sleep again. If this happens to you, here are a few tips on how to get better sleep the whole night.
- Remove noise from your sleeping environment. Try to pinpoint if there is anything externally which might be waking you up. Common causes of night waking in adults and children are dogs barking, car and house alarms, security lights being triggered and loud traffic. If you are routinely being woken up from sounds, consider using earplugs at night. Some people find white noise machines helpful for drowning out smaller sounds throughout the night.
- Don’t just lie there. If you wake up and find yourself staring into the darkness with a growing worry that you’re not going to be able to sleep, get out of bed and go into another room for a while. Read or practice some breathing exercises.
- Keep the light out. Ensure that your room has blackout blinds and that they are well fitted. Bright streetlights or sunlight pouring into your bedroom is highly stimulating and diminishes your sleep quality, even when you are sleeping through the night. Eye masks can also be very helpful.
- Ensure you have a comfy mattress. If your mattress is old or poor quality, you might find that you begin to wake up early due to back or neck pain. If this is happening to you, it’s time to invest in a new mattress and good quality pillow.
- Lower the temperature in the room. A higher body temperature can keep you awake. A lower temperature in your room — at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit — can help your body calm down and fall asleep.
If changing your environment and your sleep habits still don’t help, it may be time to go see a health professional to get more advanced help. They may prescribe you sleep aid medication or have you come in for a sleep assessment to ensure that you do not have a serious medical condition, such as sleep apnea, which may be the root cause of your insomnia.
Finally Say Good Night
In order to really address your difficulty sleeping at night, you will need to make some significant changes to your routines and habits. But once you’ve implemented these changes, you’ll find that you’re drifting off into dreamland in no time. Try to see these changes as a positive step towards enjoying more rest at night and more energy during the day.