A good night’s rest is vital for our health and well-being, but the importance of sleep goes far beyond that. We cannot live without it. That is why we are generally exhausted and function poorly when we don’t get enough quality sleep. Getting enough quality sleep at night is as important to health and well-being as diet and exercise. In fact, depriving ourselves of enough restorative sleep can lead to significant, long-term health problems.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that makes it difficult for us to fall asleep and remain asleep. It causes sufferers to get up too early and not be able to go back to sleep. Insomnia typically starts when your circadian rhythms and sleeping patterns are thrown off for a variety of reasons.
If you’re experiencing sleep problems, you’re not alone. According to the World Health Organization, two thirds of adults in developed nations and 150 million in the developing world are not getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night.
If you’re currently unable to get a good night’s rest, you need to begin the process by first of all becoming a sleep detective. In order to pinpoint the problem and focus on the right solution, you need to try and find out why exactly you’re not sleeping.
Research shows that emotional issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression is responsible for as much as half of all insomnia issues. However, it is also possible that your diet, your daytime habits, sleep pattern, and physical health may also play a key role.
Here are a list of questions that can help you narrow down the cause of your sleeplessness.
If you feel you’re not getting enough sleep at night, here are 30 things you can do to that are proven to restore quality sleep in your life.
Improve your diet
Your diet will have a profound effect on the quality and quantity of sleep you get every night. Many sleep problems can be eliminated by simple dietary changes. Generally, people who adopt a low-fiber diet eating high quantities of saturated fats and sugar, are more likely to suffer from insomnia and interrupted sleep throughout the night. However, a low-carbohydrate diet is also associated with poor sleep, even when many of the foods you consume on a low-carb diet contain ample amounts of tryptophan such as turkey, eggs, red meat, chicken, etc.
This is because eating high protein foods without carbohydrates prevents tryptophan from getting into the brain. On the other hand, the release of insulin which occurs after eating carbohydrates allows tryptophan to get into the brain where it is converted into serotonin, which produces the sleep hormone melatonin.
Click here to find out what foods can induce restful sleep.
Optimize your sleeping environment
If you’re unable to get a good night’s rest, the first thing you should be looking at is where you sleep. You need the right environment in order to get a good night’s rest. This means your bedroom needs to be pleasant, comfortable, attractive and sleep-inducing. Click here for a list of 12 ways to make your bedroom more comfortable and sleep-friendly.
Drown out noise
If you happen to live in a noisy area or sleep with a partner that snores or makes noises in their sleep, get ear plugs or invest in a white noise machine to drown out the noise. A white noise machine is the simplest and most effective solution to blocking out all types of noise. White noise is a unique type of sound signal which is used to promote healthy sleep by masking background sounds that might otherwise prevent you from falling asleep. It does this by drowning out those sounds and fading into the background. When it does so, it takes all of the other external sounds with it.
Watch what you eat before bedtime
Eating the wrong foods just before bedtime can rob you of a good night’s sleep. Many foods to avoid before bedtime are actually healthy for you to eat. They are just not recommended to eat before bed because they can prevent you from going to sleep and affect the quality and quantity of your sleep. You should also avoid eating anything at least 2-3 hours before bedtime. Click here for a list of foods to avoid before bedtime.
Get a sleep mask
A sleep mask is one of the simplest, natural and most effective solutions to the issue of sleeplessness. They are typically produced from fabric that is designed to completely cover the eyes and shield them from all incoming light. This helps to induce a state of pure and total darkness, which encourages the production of melatonin, the sleep chemical. If you work the night shift or your sleeping environment cannot be completely dark for one reason or another, you’ll find a sleep mask to be really helpful.
Sleeping in the buff is one of the most effective ways to get some quality sleep in your life. Not many people sleep naked, and this is understandable. After all, most of us have been brought up to wear PJs to bed. However, the fact remains that the less you wear to bed, the better and deeper you will sleep. This is down to the link between a good night’s sleep and lower body temperature.
The body is naturally programmed to lower body temperature at night before sleep can be initiated. Wearing warm PJs at this time hinders the ability of your body to achieve the optimal sleeping temperature, leaving you struggling to fall asleep even when you’re tired.
The primary reason for this is because your body is not cool enough. Stripping down to your birthday suit allows your body to regulate itself and achieve the optimal sleeping temperature, allowing you to go to sleep faster and remain asleep until your alarm goes off in the morning.
Boost your magnesium levels
Magnesium is absolutely essential for good health, and is recognized for its ability to soothe insomnia. One study found that it helps reduce the amount of cortisol that is produced in the body. Cortisol is the “stress hormone” that can keep you up at night. It also a muscle relaxer that provides that calm “sleepy” feeling and help you unwind after a long day.
Magnesium can be taken in the following forms:
The following foods are good to excellent sources of magnesium:
- Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens.)
- Wheat germ
- Low-fat yoghurt
- Black beans.
- Quinoa, cooked.
- Fish (salmon, halibut, mackerel, tuna)
- Nuts and seeds ( almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, cashews, pine nuts, flaxseed, pecans)
Although the above foods are rich in magnesium, levels could still be low due to depleted soil nutrition and poor absorption. That is why people generally supplement their magnesium intake with different types of supplements.
Transdermal Magnesium Therapy
Transdermal Magnesium Therapy is a relatively new form of magnesium supplementation for people seeking a safe method of increasing magnesium intake beyond that possible with oral supplements. Transdermal magnesium is also an excellent choice for people who suffer from low tolerance to oral magnesium, evidenced by diarrhea or other intestinal complaints.
Take melatonin supplements
Melatonin is known as the “sleep hormone” because it helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm and promotes full restful sleep. It is produced from serotonin in the evenings to help us sleep. Sleeping in total darkness is the best way to get optimal melatonin that will drive you to sleep, and even low amounts of blue light from light bulbs will suppress the production of melatonin which will have other health consequences beyond lack of sleep.
If your body is not producing enough melatonin, it is available as a dietary supplement in gummy form or as a fruity drink. It is important to be very careful with melatonin supplements because high dosage melatonin can cause daytime drowsiness, a constant feeling of fatigue, and the need to sleep more than normal. It can also disrupt your own organic production, which could potentially supress your body’s ability to produce this important hormone.
Exercise improves your heart health, strengthens your muscle and bone, and can help you get a good night’s rest. According to a study by scientists at North-western university in America, sleeplessness can be caused simply because you haven’t been active enough during the day. The study looked at women aged 55 years and older who were finding it difficult to stay asleep. It found that people who exercised during the day had more vitality, less depressive symptoms, and felt less sleepy during the day.
Believe in your fitness.
A study of 862 Swiss college students found that no matter how much you exercise, what matters most is the perception you have of yourself as far as being fit is concerned. The amount of exercise you do is actually irrelevant as far as inducing sleep is concerned. If you feel that you’re not getting enough exercise, you won’t sleep as well as people who “believe” that they are getting enough exercise even if you exercise 10 times as much as they do.
Don’t exercise before bedtime.
If you’re going to exercise, make sure that you do it earlier in the day. This is because when you exercise, your body temperature goes up. When your body temperature is up, you feel more energetic and alert. Your core body temperature needs to be cool enough to induce sleep, and it takes about 6 hours for the body to drop to the optimal sleeping temperature. Exercising within 6 hours of bedtime can keep your body temperature high and make dozing off a lot more difficult.
Free your mind of clutter before bed.
Having work or relationship-related issues on your mind are going to stop you from getting a quality night’s rest. Focusing on such issues stimulate your brain and causes a build-up of cortisol, the stress hormone. You need peace of mind to sleep well. This emphasizes the importance of having a positive attitude. Whatever you’re thinking about can wait until morning.
Practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a psychological treatment programme that when you apply towards sleep can correct those negative thoughts that can ultimately lead to insomnia, and even make it worse. It helps you identify the specific negative attitudes and beliefs that are damaging your sleep, and replaces them with positive thoughts, so that you’re effectively ‘unlearning’ the negative beliefs.
Click here for more information on using CBT to overcome insomnia.
Invest in low blue lights
The brightness of the lights in your home can have an impact on the quality and quantity of sleep that you get every night. In a study of the effect of blue light on the body’s internal clock, it was found that the timing, intensity, duration and wavelength of blue light affects the human biological clock.
Researchers at the Surrey Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey also found that the ordinary, artificial indoor-light we’re exposed to in the evening suppresses the rise of melatonin, making us feel less sleepy, and more inclined to delay bedtime. Tis is primarily because most lights contain a high amount of blue light that disrupts sleep.
Don’t use alcohol as a sleep aid.
A number of people use alcohol including wine, beer and liquor as a sleep aid to help them fall asleep quicker. However, even though you may doze off faster, this can really be counter-productive and worsen your sleeping difficulties.
This is because while you may fall go to bed faster, the quality of your sleep will be adversely affected because there is a higher likelihood of you waking up in the middle of the night. This means you will be getting less deep sleep, which is also known as restorative (REM) sleep. When you get less REM sleep, you’re likely to wake up feeling disoriented.
Avoid using technology late at least an hour before going to bed
According to a study carried out by scientists from the blue-chip Karolinska Institute and Uppsala University in Sweden and from Wayne State University in Michigan, USA the late-night use of mobile phones is more disruptive to sleep than watching television. The research shows that using mobile phones before bed causes people to take longer to reach the deeper stages of sleep and to spend less time in them. I
n another study, Neuroscientist Dr Paul Howard Jones of Bristol University found that staring at a small bright screen especially when the lights are off, can disrupt the secretion of melatonin. He further found that teenagers who text after lights out are 4 times more likely to experience daytime drowsiness.
Take a warm bath before going to bed
Several studies have shown that warming your body by taking a bath can help induce sleep when there’s enough time to cool off afterward. Hot showers are known to have the same effect. You just need to avoid taking a hot bath or shower too close to the time you plan on going to bed. And the reason for this is because sleep tends to occur when the body temperature is low. Being overheated or sweating will make it difficult to sleep, so give your body an hour to cool down before dozing off.
Don’t consume caffeine late in the day
You probably know that drinking coffee just before going to bed is a big mistake. However, studies show that drinking coffee in the late afternoon or evening is just as bad as drinking it just before bedtime, because the caffeine content can remain in your system for several hours.
In fact, studies show that it takes about 6 hours for one half of the caffeine in your system to be eliminated. This means that if you drink coffee or coffee-flavored treats such as cappuccino-flavored ice cream, it can disrupt your sleep for up to six hours after.
Don’t go to bed angry or emotional.
According to research, going to bed immediately after a quarrel or traumatic experience will preserve your emotions all night long. . This is because the human body is naturally averse to dozing off in situations that it perceives as dangerous. This means you’ll find it more difficult to go to bed after a quarrel, especially with a loved one. You’d be better off resolving the conflict before you spend the whole night tossing and turning.
Be consistent with your sleep and wake times
Setting up a sleep-schedule for yourself with a regular bedtime and wake-up time every day, even on weekends, is one of the best self-help techniques for insomnia. It is a key strategy in getting rid of insomnia for good.
Unfortunately, most people don’t do that. Instead, they choose to go to bed only when they’re feeling sleepy. But what you should do instead is to set up your own routine and schedule your bedtime. Don’t even open your eyes if you wake up in the middle of the night, because that will make it more difficult for you to go back to sleep.
You should endeavour to avoid alternating schedules that may disrupt your sleep schedule. The human body likes a set routine. When you setup a regular bedtime and wake-up time, it is so important to go to bed at the same time at night and wake up the same time every morning because the body needs consistency.
Meditate before bedtime.
Adjust your daily schedule to include time for meditation. There is an abundance of evidence that meditation is highly effective at improving sleep patterns, often dramatically. Instead of trying to balance your budget or solve problems that just build up stress before bedtime, turn to soothing activities like meditation.
A groundbreaking study by the University of Massachusetts Medical School found that 58% of insomniac participants showed massive improvements thanks to meditation. A remarkable 91% of participants on medication were able to reduce the dosage or totally get off medication. After several months, more than half of the participants reported that they were maintaining a better sleep cycle, showing that meditation is a great long-term tool for combating insomnia.
To practice meditation, all you have to do is sit down and clear your mind. Try to listen to relaxing music that will help calm you down. Once you start to get used to the idea of meditating throughout the day, the mind will be able to relax faster at night and therefore you will have an easier time falling asleep. Endeavor to spend at least 30 minutes a day on meditation.
Breathe in and out.
The 4-7-8 breathing exercise was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard trained doctor with a focus on holistic breath. Breathing in and breathing out is largely psychological but it can trigger a physiological response in your body. Not only can it normalise the heart and respiration rate, it can also calm and relax you before bed. It can also be practiced anywhere because you don’t have to lie on your back to do it.
Here’s a typical breathing exercise that can help you get the best sleep ever:
1. Sit up with your back straight.
2. Place the tip of your tongue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there throughout the entire exercise.
3. Practice exhaling with your tongue in this position. It will be easier if you purse your lips.
4. Now close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 4 seconds (counting one one thousand, two one thousand etc.)
5. Hold your breath for 7 seconds then exhale through your mouth, taking 8 seconds to exhale completely.
6. Repeat 3-4 times and try to be accurate with the counting.
7. Do this every evening before bed
Click here for more information on the 4-7-8 breathing exercise.
It is a well-known fact that yoga can significantly improve sleep patterns. Yoga helps to increase the total flexibility of your body, relax your mind and destress the body. Try to spend at least 30 minutes a day to yoga. It is typically best done in early morning, in a quiet place and with exposure to sunlight. You can either choose to go for yoga classes perhaps with friends or practice at home, where you would have more privacy.
Yoga will certainly benefit your sleep in various ways ways. The practice of certain yoga postures will increase the blood circulation to the sleep center in the brain, which has the effect of normalizing the sleep cycle.
Get a comfortable bed, mattress and pillow
The fundamental basis of good sleep is a cosy and comfortable bed. Getting a restorative night’s sleep starts with the right mattress. Poor support from a mattress will reinforce bad sleeping posture, and can prevent you from getting a quality night’s rest. If you find that you’re getting better quality sleep in a motel or other bed away from home, it may be time to get a new bed.
Prioritize value and quality over price: Hand-made mattresses with more coils, pocket springs, natural padding, and quality components will be higher quality and thus more expensive than others. Make sure your bedsheets are made from a high thread count. Be sure to shop around, look for sales and offers, save up, but never compromise on quality when looking for the right mattress and pillow.
Engage in aromatherapy
Aromatherapy, is connected to the use of a variety of essential oils derived from plants. It has been employed in the treatment of a wide variety of physical as well as emotional issues. Even though there haven’t been any concrete studies into the effectiveness of aromatherapy treatments, there have been a few studies that have proved its efficacy in mitigating anxiety and improving sleep quality. Focus on organic, 100% pure essential oils that have no synthetic additives. You can also combine essential oils to create a more pleasing fragrance, or heighten the potency.
Scientists have linked smoking to cancer, heart attacks, anxiety, depression and a host of other serious diseases. Smoking can also damage the body’s natural sleep routine, and some of that damage cannot be undone. According to a 2011 study, people who currently smoke are 2.5 times more likely to also suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. Nicotine, similar to caffeine, is both a drug and a stimulant. This means it can significantly impact the quality of your sleep if taken in high quantities and too close to bedtime. According to a 2013 University of Florida study, the average person loses 1.2 minutes of sleep for every cigarette they smoke, due to nicotine’s stimulating and subsequent withdrawal effects. One further study found that women in late mid-life who smoke are even more susceptible to developing insomnia.
Don’t share your bed with your pet.
There has been much debate about whether sleeping with a pet can be a contributing factor to insomnia. According to a recent study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, allowing your pet to sleep in your bedroom does not worsen your sleep, as long as it is not sleeping in your bed. On average, people with dogs in their rooms (but not in their beds) slept better than those who slept with their pets in the same bed.
Wear socks to bed
If you’re unable to get a quality night’s sleep, wearing socks to bed can be a really smart thing to do. According to sleep.org, “Heating cold feet causes vasodilation—dilation of the blood vessels—which may tell the brain that it is bedtime. Once the blood vessels are open, heat is redistributed throughout the body to prepare for sleep. In fact, according to research, the more vasodilation in the hands and feet, the quicker you’ll fall asleep. A study that was published in the International Weekly Journal of Science also says going to bed with socks on actually helps you fall asleep fifteen minutes sooner than usual. Alternatively, you can also get a basic water bottle to warm up the foot of your bed. It will accomplish the same purpose.
Avoid sleeping pills like the plague.
Sleeping pills are the default option for millions of people who are unable to get a good night’s rest. In the UK, more than 12 million prescriptions for insomnia were issued by the NHS. On the surface, this type of medication can seem like the perfect cure. Pop a pill into your mouth and a few minutes later, drop into deep sleep that could last for up to eight hours.
However, research has pointed to their overall lack of effectiveness at resolving the underlying causes of chronic insomnia. Furthermore, they don’t deliver sleep of the same quality as natural sleep, and they come with significant risks and side effects which vary from one person to another.
For example, according to drugs.com, Ambien — one of the most popular prescription sleep drugs — can cause serious side effects including drowsiness, headache, muscle aches, stuffy or runny nose, memory loss, double vision, diarrhea, swollen neck glands, voice changes, forgetfulness, belching, body aches, etc.
Sleeping pills are also highly addictive, and getting off them is tough because your sleeping problems can worsen if you stop taking them – a phenomenon known as “rebound insomnia”. Furthermore, after regular use, your body could rapidly build a tolerance to the medication. This means you’ll have to keep increasing the dosage for them to work effectively.
But what is even more concerning about the use of sleeping pills is that a study of over 10,000 people with the average age of 54 years who were prescribed sleeping pills found they had a threefold or more increase in the risk of death compared to those not taking the drugs. The researchers estimated between 300,000 to 500,000 excess deaths each year in the United States alone associated with the use of sleeping pills.