Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by the inability to fall asleep despite being physically and mentally tired. Insomnia may be acute which lasts for a short period of time or chronic, which usually lasts more than a month. This condition may be caused by significant stress, depressive disorders or due to the intake of certain drugs.
There are generally two types of Insomnia:
- Primary Insomnia: This condition occurs wherein an individual experiences problems in sleep, however, these problems do not stem directly from any other health condition.
- Secondary insomnia: This type of insomnia results from other adverse health conditions such as depression, asthma, cancer, arthritis, heartburn or problems related to intake of certain medications or other substances such as alcohol.
In some cases, insomnia also occurs during periods of normal sleep. Acute cases of insomnia can last for about one night to a few weeks while chronic cases occur when a person experiences a minimum of three sleepless nights in a week for a month or more.
The common signs of insomnia include the inability to fall asleep for at least a week or more, feeling perpetually tired, feeling irritable and waking up intermittently in sleep. Chronic insomnia must be medically catered to. However, It’s a wise idea to try the following techniques before seeking medical help or resorting to pills as these are natural ways to overcome your disorder and have been found by many former insomniacs to be extremely effective.
- Maintain proper sleeping periods:
You should adhere to a particular sleep schedule every day. Try going to bed and waking up in the morning at about the same time each day of the week. And yes, that includes the weekends as well.
- Cut down on caffeine:
Caffeine hampers the sleep by curbing the release of ‘dopamine’ which is responsible for controlling the sleep-wake cycle. It might be wise to avoid caffeine if you are suffering from insomnia, especially eight hours before you decide to retire for the night.
- Avoid the glare of smartphones prior to going to bed:
The glare from the screens of mobile phones, television or computers often disrupts the neurons in the hypothalamus (the part of the brain which controls the sleeping patterns). The glare from the screen works upthe mind, keeping you alert which thus prevents you from falling asleep.
- Ensure that your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool:
Light, noise and heat can mar your sleep schedules. Make sure to switch off all the lights to keep your room dark while you sleep. It is advisable not to switch on any bedside lamp as well if you want to recuperate completely from this condition. Also, try using earplugs to cancel out any ambient noise. A cool and cosy room is always conducive to a good night’s sleep; hence, besides the fan being switched on, keep a few windows open to make sure there’s enough air circulation in the room.
Exercise facilitates enhanced blood circulation in the entire body and also helps the brain in the secretion of ‘endorphins’, the body’s natural feel good hormones, which help fight stress. Exercises also boost ‘serotonin’ (chemical secreted in the brain) levels in the body, which act as mood stabilizers. Moderate to heavy exercises during the day or mild exercises in the evening (for about 20-25 minutes) can be beneficial to sound sleep by getting you physically exhausted and mentally relaxed.
- Avoid naps:
Taking naps around noon or indulging in that leisurely afternoon sleep can disrupt your sleep at night. If you are somebody with the habit of taking a quick nap every day, do that before it is 3 by the clock in the afternoon and also make sure not to stretch that for more than 30 minutes.
- Wear a Sleep mask
Using a sleep mask ensures that the individual is not disturbed by light at night. A room which is completely dark nurtures the secretion of ‘melatonin’ (hormones which govern the sleep wake patterns in an individual) and thus, improves your night’s sleep.
- Avoid alcohol:
A new researchconsisting of 27 studies has shown that alcohol diminishesyourquality of sleep.A research conducted by The London Sleep Centre, UK states that although alcohol may seem to help induce sleep, the same proves to be very disruptive to deep, good quality , REM sleep and can even cause sleep apnoea in the long run.
- Relax and Unwind:
Unwinding over the weekend and an overall relaxed ambience at home helps one fall asleep sooner and more comfortably.
- Yoga and Meditation
Yoga and meditation can help one attain peace at mind thus encouraging sound sleep at night.
- Avoid eating late at night:
Eating late at night causes the digestion process to begin late as well, causing the individual difficulty in falling asleep. Do not binge eat at night as binge eating, no matter when you do it, can harm you in more ways than one; messing up your sleep cycles is just one of the perils associated with it. It is best to finish your meal at least 3 hours before you hang up your boots for the night.
- Take a warm bath:
A warm bath before bed relaxes all the strained muscles of your body which can give you a good night’s sleep.
- Practice relaxation techniques:
Try deep breathing and meditation before bedtime to induce a relaxed state of mind before falling asleep.
- Consume these herbs:
Certain herbs such as valerian and ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) are known to sedate the individual which helps in normalizing and regulating sleep cycles. Mix the ashwagandha granules in a glass of warm milk and drink the concoction before you retire for the night. However, it is important to not become dependent on them as that can make you addicted.
Aromatherapy has been known to induce relaxation so you can let go of all the stress before it’s time for your zzz’s. Oils and scents used for aromatherapy such as lavender oil are readily available in the market. The essential oils can be sprinkled on a tissue and 10 to 15 deep breaths prior to bedtime may have remedial effects on correcting your sleep routine.
Yoga helps in calming the mind and the body,which goes a long way in bettering your sleep over a period of time in a permanent way.
- Don’t force sleep:
It is impossible to force yourself to sleep. Tossing and turning in bed only increases the apprehension, thus furthering difficulties in falling asleep. Try to read a book for some time, drink a cup of decaffeinated tea or listen to some soft relaxing music if you find yourself awake for the better part of an hour. You can always go back to bed once you are feeling sleepy.
- Remove clocks out of your view:
Constantly checking the time only increases anxiety which further fuels your insomnia. Banish all timekeepers (watches, clocks, mobile phones, et all) out of your sight.
- Wear socks to bed:
According to a study published in the Swiss Journal ‘Nature’, some warmth on your hands and feet can lull you to sleep faster. This is because body warmth helps in improved blood circulation. Thus, the flow of blood from the core of the body to its extremities helps the body cool, therefore inducing a feeling of relaxation.
- Adopt these stress management techniques:
- Practise deep slow breathing which involves not only the chest but also the belly, that is to say, inhale very slowly and deeply from within the stomach; all of this while keeping your eyes closed.
- Hold your muscles till a count of 10 and then let go. Relax your body muscles; all the way from your toes right up to your head. This is a time-honoured technique which has proved to be effective in releasing stress, over and over again.
- Reduce anxiety:
It is important not to ponder over your inability to fall asleep. This only increases anxiety and stress, making it even harder to fall asleep, thus creating a vicious cycle. Instead, try talking about your worries to your friend or a loved one to relieve stress. Remember, the person you talk to need not be an expert in guiding you through this condition, he/she just needs to be a good listener.
- Wash your face with cold water before bedtime:
Immersing your face in a bowl of cold water for a minute before bed helps to normalize blood pressure and heart rate, both of which are rudimentary requisites for a good night’s sleep.
- Adopt visualization techniques:
Visualizing yourself in a relaxed atmosphere and calm surroundings is often useful. You can try this technique by imagining peaceful and calming things to induce sleep. One such common example could be the technique of ‘counting sheep’. In this, you imagine a setting in your mind where you count the number of sheep crossing over a fence till the monotony of the activity puts you to sleep.
- Sip on decaff green tea:
Sipping on a cup or two of green tea throughout the day can remedy insomnia to an extent; the ‘theanine’ (an amino acid which induces relaxation, primarily found in freshly brewed teas and green teas) content in green tea helps promote sleep. However, try to get the decaffeinated varieties as excess caffeine might aggravate the problem.
- Get a massage:
A massage before sleep enhances blood circulation in the body which helps in relaxing your system, thereby helping you get quality sleep at night.
- Go for a Walk:
A stroll after dinner or before sleep facilitates better digestion and speeds up the metabolic processes, which help you sleep easier and better.
- Lay on a Firm Bed:
Sleeping on a firm bed eases the discomfort caused to the muscles. Thus, it saves you the harassment of waking up repeatedly at night owing to uneasiness.
- Wake up early:
Waking up early in the morning sets the body paradigm in order and also tires one out by the end of the day, making it rather easy for the individual to sleep comfortably at night.
- Listen to soothing music:
Listening to soothing music with the lights turned dim have been proven to relax the mind, and ease you into a peaceful sleep. Moreover, there are a variety of playlists you could buy or download, created specifically with the intention of lulling the listener into deep sleep.
- Include this dietary supplement:
The hormone ‘melatonin’ is secreted by your brain at night which governs your sleeping schedules. The good news for insomniacs is that nowadays, ‘melatonin’ is also available in the form of dietary supplements which you can include as a part of your daily diet. However, remember that these melatonin supplements do have their share of side effects; any more than the dosage prescribed by your doctor or on the sachet can make you feel sluggish and drowsy the next morning once you wake up.