Can’t fall asleep – 8 top tips to deal with insomnia

There’s always that one know-it-all that’ll tell you “sleep is really important” or that “you need at least 8 hours of sleep per day to function at your best”?

Yeah, I’d like to think we know that by now, but it’s not so easy to put such “words of wisdom” into practice when you spend most of the night tossing and turning, mean-mugging the clock as if it owes you money.

You’ve been chasing your dreams long enough, it’s about time you seize the moment and catch those Zzz’s.

What is insomnia

What is insomnia – the need to know

Insomnia is a condition whereby you find difficulty in falling as well as staying asleep. It may also be when you find yourself waking up prematurely and unable to fall back asleep, despite being very tired.

Insomnia can affect your sleep from various angles; some examples of sleep troubles you may experience include:

  • Having trouble falling asleep on a night, even when tired
  • Waking during the night, sometimes several times and having trouble falling back asleep
  • Laying awake during the night

These symptoms of insomnia can last anywhere from a couple of months to occasionally many years.

Eight top tips to deal with symptoms of insomnia – a simple and comprehensive infographic guide

For a quick overview covering 8 top tips to help you overcome insomnia, feel free to have a read over our succinct and comprehensive infographic on dealing with insomnia. Make sure to share this useful resource with your friends and family.

Dealing with insomnia (infographic)

For a more in-depth look into the 8 top tips on how to best deal with insomnia (see below).

Relaxation and insomnia

1. Learn to relax and reduce stress

If you are anxious and or have stress on your mind this can contribute to and even cause insomnia. On top of this, troubles falling asleep can add further stress and anxiety, potentially adding fuel to an evil and perpetual cycle of insomnia.

A cycle of stress-related insomnia, my GOD that sounds pretty annoying doesn’t it? But don’t despair, you can break this cycle by being proactive and implementing some simple stress management strategies (see below).

It is essential to understand the root cause(s) of the stress that may be contributing to and exacerbating your insomnia. This can easily be achieved by keeping and updating a journal/ log on the aspects of life, which you believe to be leading to stress throughout the day. Such stress, if not controlled may lead to overthinking during the night.

By making such notes you have the capacity to then understand, process, and hopefully remove or manage such dilemmas in your life that are causing you stress.

Whilst you tackle these root causes, in the meantime you can incorporate stress relief techniques before hitting the hay. A couple of easy and practical examples include:

1. Breathing exercises to help deal with stress and anxiety

Many different breathing exercise techniques have been developed over time e.g. *Bhramari pranayama (have fun pronouncing that), *three-part breathing, *box breathing, amongst many others. For the sake of simplicity a more concise example of a breathing exercise is outlined below:

Whilst laying down, *close your eyes *place your arms by your side with your *palms facing up. You can either keep your legs straight or bend your knees with the soles of your feet flat against your mattress.

Now with a presence of mind, visualise your breathing, imagine the inhaled oxygen reaching your forehead, neck and shoulders and then focus on releasing all the stress and tension you have built up as you calmly breathe out.

When mentally prepared breathe in deeply through your nose and count steadily from 1 to 5 seconds (start with a time you can manage and gradually increase over time).

Finally, breathe out steadily through your mouth from 1 to 5 seconds (start with a time you can manage and gradually increase over time).

Repeat steps (three and four) for 3 to 5 minutes until you feel relaxed and less tense.

2. Progressive muscle relaxation

This involves tensing and relaxing muscle groups one at a time, starting with the lower extremities (from the thighs to the feet) and ending with the abdomen, chest and face.

How to practice progressive muscle relaxation for dealing with insomnia

To start make sure that you are wearing comfortable clothing (e.g. your favourite outfit, in other words, your PJs) and prepare to visualise the stress leaving your body, one muscle group at a time:

Take a deep breath in through your nose and whilst inhaling contract and tense one muscle group at a time e.g. your chest, for 5 to 10 seconds (start with as much as you can manage and gradually increase over time).

Once you have inhaled, proceed to breathe out of your mouth and release the contraction that you were holding on that particular muscle group in a sudden manner.

Work through contracting and relaxing all your muscle groups, to help keep track start from the bottom of your body to the top.

Electronics insomnia

2. Turn off and avoid using your electronics close to bedtime

To understand the reason why we must manage our use of electronics close to bedtime, we first need to understand the effects of the dreaded blue light that these electronics emit.

What is blue light and how does it affect your sleep

To keep things simple blue light is a range of the visible light spectrum with a short wave-length which suppresses the release of the body’s natural sleep-inducing hormone known as melatonin, which adversely affects our body’s internal clock, also known as the “circadian rhythm”, making falling asleep a harder task than it needs to be.

For most of us, it is a part of our bedtime routine to get some screen-time before we decide to fall asleep. I know it’s hard to rid such habits, but the importance of changing our bedtime routine when it pertains to electronics can’t be understated when tackling insomnia.

Instead of using your mobile phone and getting lost in the wormhole of Twittersphere, you can set a curfew of 2 hours, or even 30 minutes before bedtime to put your chosen device on time-out and on charge, so it’s ready for you in the morning. Maybe instead take up some bedtime reading with a simple paperback but avoid a kindle or any other similar device as they emit an equal amount of blue light than any other screen device.

Medication and insomnia

3. Purchase sleeping pills

If any of the tips covered throughout this blog are of little or no benefit in helping you deal with your insomnia you can visit your local pharmacy or a certified online pharmacy to have a conversation with a pharmacist. If they deem your need for sleeping pills appropriate they can recommend a number of over the counter options e.g. Diphenhydramine (Nytol) and Promethazine hydrochloride (Sominex) amongst others that are deemed appropriate.

If it is deemed appropriate for you to purchase a particular type and strength of any of these medicines over the counter, it is very important that you understand and adhere to the recommended treatment duration (usually 2 weeks, subject to the pharmacist’s recommendation) as to avoid becoming dependent on these sleeping pills to fall asleep.

If you have previously taken over the counter sleeping pills to no avail you are best visiting your GP so that they can prescribe you an alternative medicine that may be more effective for your insomnia. You can also visit or contact your GP if you experience little to no results after implementing the relevant tips for a considerable duration and are still finding difficulty in falling asleep, so much so that your daily functioning is being notably affected.

Environment header

4. Change your sleeping environment

Ensure that your bedroom set up is ideal. Here are 5 top tips on maximising your sleep setting:

A dark room

Dark room example

As in tip number 2, it is essential that you eliminate all blue light from your bedroom close to bedtime, which means turning off all blue light-emitting electronics e.g. a computer or TV screen, even better and if possible you could remove these devices from your room and make your bedroom a space solely for sleeping.

Asides from controlling blue light emission close to bedtime it is also important that you eliminate all light possible, this includes bedside lamps, lights outside your bedroom door and ensure that you have thick curtains or blinds that keep the intense British sunlight out, ‘cause we all know that’s a real problem.

A quite room

The response to different sounds can vary from person to person, depending on what you have become accustomed to, e.g. the sound of beeping cards is normal for city folk but the same persistent sounds can be infuriating for those living in more rural areas. Alternatively, near-complete silence can also be problematic, the bottom line is that you need to understand your individual response to external sound or lack thereof. Some simple tips for you to pick and experiment with are listed below:

  • Close your windows on a night to drown out and lessen any outside noise.
  • If you don’t have the capacity to control outside noises you can use earplugs that somewhat drown out annoying noises, but it is essential that you can hear important sounds that you need to be alerted to e.g. a baby crying or your work alarm (that is if you don’t feel like calling in sick).
  • If you don’t prefer silence you can incorporate white noise into your sleeping routine. White noise can be described as a backdrop of ambient sound with a consistent intensity, examples include the *sound from a running fan or *white noise machine that can play various relaxing white noises e.g. rain and other nature sounds. Have a hear.

A cool room and a cool bed

When you get into bed to sleep your body naturally cools down as it prepares itself for sleep. You can implement some strategies to help speed up this process of cooling down:

  • Keep your bedroom around 18°C by using a fan or an A/C
  • Sleep with minimal clothing on or in light PJs

Some simple tips for creating a cool environment at night:

1. Invest in a cooler mattress

It is common for a mattress to hold a lot of heat, especially memory foam. There are, however, many other options that do a better job at keeping your mattress cool e.g. organic latex, innerspring and maybe a hybrid of the both. Choice subject to possible allergies to such materials.

But let’s face it mattresses can be very expensive until you have the means to purchase a new mattress you can instead purchase a cooling pad for your mattress.

2. Use the right pillow

Your brain has a tendency to generate a lot of warmth, for this reason, it is essential that you pick a pillow that helps cool your head whilst you sleep. There a various options for pillows that help promote cooling.

Pillows of the memory foam variety do a great job at cradling your head and neck, especially the models with:

  • A with cooling gel-infused inlay, which can be purchased separately to be inserted into a pillow you already own.
  • Ventilated foam which allows for better airflow through your pillow creating a cooler pillow.
  • Ensure that your pillow cover is made of a breathable fabric that allows for adequate airflow
3. Use cooling sheets

As is the case with cooling pillows there are also cooling sheets that achieve the same effect as increasing airflow. These sheets are made of breathable materials such as organic cotton and bamboo, which stay cool and dry even through periods of sweating.

4. Use a fan or and A/C

If you own an A/C make sure to set it to a moderate level whereby you can achieve a temperature of around 18°C.

Exercise and insomnia

5. Manage your exercise around bedtime to help manage insomnia

Exercise has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms, all of which are big contributors to insomnia.

However, it is important to take into account the time of day that you are performing the exercise as it has been shown that if exercise is done within 4 hours of your intended bedtime it may contribute to insomnia. This is hypothesised to be due to an increase in body-heat after exercise, which can cause trouble falling asleep if done closer to bedtime. On the other hand, the cooldown effect after exercise (within 4 hours of exercise) has shown to help in promoting sleep.

It is also important to take into account the type of exercise that is done. Studies have shown that moderate-intensity exercise (e.g. brisk walking), reduced the time it took to fall asleep and also increased the length of time those suffering from insomnia slept throughout the night. On the other hand, more vigorous aerobic exercises (e.g. running and weight lifting) whereby both your breathing and heart rate increase, insomnia did not improve.

It is recommended that adults perform 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on a weekly basis, which you can spread over 7 days (amounting to roughly 20 minutes a day).

Examples of moderate-intensity exercise:

  • Brisk walking
  • Water aerobics – a type of resistance training done vertically in waist-high water, without swimming. This type of exercise is also really good on joints.
  • Dancing
  • Hiking
  • Rollerblading

Environment header

6. Make sure your sleeping hours are consistent

If your sleeping routine varies from day to day you can easily develop problems with falling asleep at a consistent time. An irregular sleeping routine may involve sleeping late into the afternoon on a weekend or taking regular and short naps during the daytime, which is very detrimental to our sleep cycle.

If you Incorporate the tips outlined they will allow you to create and mould a routine that helps you achieve a consistent sleeping schedule.

Environment and insomnia

7. Avoid smoking close to bedtime

Nicotine is a stimulant that is found in cigarettes and other cigarette alternatives e.g. vapes. Nicotine can keep you up and even disrupt your sleep by waking you up during the night time. Therefore it is very important to avoid smoking at least 2 hours before bedtime.

caffine and alcohol in insomnia

8. Avoid caffeine and drinking alcohol close to bedtime

Most adults in the world consume caffeine in some capacity, in various different caffeinated drinks e.g. coffee, tea and energy drinks. Once consumed caffeine enters the bloodstream in roughly 15 minutes, with its effects persisting for many hours. Once consumed caffeine takes around 6 hours to be eliminated by half.

As a rule of thumb, ensure that you don’t consume caffeine around 6 hours before your intended bedtime.

Alcohol in itself is sedative in nature so we’d expect that it would help us in the process of falling asleep, but it’s not as simple as this. Moreover, disruption to sleep occurs on the back of alcohol’s effect on REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, whereby it reduces the amount of REM sleep that we experience.

What is REM sleep?

In short, this is a type of sleep that exists amongst five stages of sleep, during which time we dream whilst the eyes move around rapidly. This stage of sleep is the lightest of all stages and gives way to easy waking from sleep and if imbalanced with other stages of sleep it negatively impacts the overall quality of sleep. This leads to shorter durations of sleep and an increase in sleep disruptions throughout the night.

For the above reasons it is recommended that alcohol should be avoided in the last four hours before your intended bedtime.

Conclusion

As you can see there are many different tips and tricks that you can employ to help improve your sleep and hopefully fight off your insomnia. If you don’t see any or optimal improvement in your sleep after some time of employing these tips, we recommend you to visit your GP for more specialist advice and treatment to help you on your journey to dealing with insomnia.

But make sure to carry on with these tips and share this article with your friends and family so that we can benefit as many people as possible.

And remember to not forget us little guys at Behealthible when you achieve your dreams, share, subscribe and comment with any questions that you may have.

References

https://www.alaskasleep.com/blog/bad-sleep-habits

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/sleepless-nights-try-stress-relief-techniques

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279320/

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/insomnia/

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/ways-relieve-stress/

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/caffeine-and-sleep

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/exercise-and-insomnia

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/stress-and-insomnia

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/why-electronics-may-stimulate-you-bed

https://www.ressleep.com.au/articles/having-trouble-sleeping-due-to-noise-tips

https://www.tuck.com/14-ways-to-stay-cool-at-night-without-ac/

https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/muscle-relaxation-for-stress-insomnia