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10 ways to beat insomnia

Trouble sleeping? Whether you stay awake for hour after hour before falling asleep or wake up frequently during the night, insomnia can turn what should be a stress-reducing, relaxing activity into a frustrating annoyance.

Millions of people are affected by insomnia and other sleep conditions in a range of degrees. From slow, sluggish mornings to serious health problems, failing to get the right amount of sleep can affect every aspect of your life.

In this guide, we’ll share 10 tips that you can use to beat insomnia, whether you’re used to spend hours in bed before falling asleep or struggle to get a single moment of shut-eye when you slide under the covers.

“The last refuge of the insomniac is a sense of superiority to the sleeping world.”  ― Leonard Cohen

Avoid caffeine and other stimulants after noon

Are you a coffee drinker? A cup of coffee in the morning is unlikely to prevent you from falling asleep at night, but caffeine’s long half-life can keep you awake late if you consume a large dose in the afternoon.

It takes eight to 10 hours for your body to eliminate 75% of the caffeine in a cup of coffee. This means that a late afternoon cappuccino could still keep you awake until well after 11 pm.

Avoid drinking caffeine and other stimulants in the afternoon if you struggle to fall asleep. Set your caffeine deadline at midday and take a nap in the early afternoon to compensate for the reduced caffeine intake if you feel fatigued.

Use stimulus control therapy to fall asleep faster

When you spend more time awake in bed than asleep, your brain can associate your bedroom with staying awake instead of sleeping. The best way to reverse this is by using stimulus control therapy to change the way you think about sleeping.

Stimulus control therapy involves getting out of bed and reading or walking around the house if you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes. When you feel tired again, make your way back to bed and try to fall asleep again.

If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and repeat the process. It’s best to avoid ‘rewarding’ activities like work, organising your home or studying as you prepare for sleep, since they boost brain activity and make sleeping difficult.

Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends

Do you get up at a different time every morning? One of the best ways to fall asleep easily is by waking up at the exact same time every morning and forcing yourself to adapt to a rigid sleep schedule.

Set your alarm for the same time every morning, regardless of whether it’s the week or the weekend. As soon as you hear it ring, get out of bed and start on your routine to force your mind to get out of ‘sleep’ mode and operating normally.

Insomnia by Benjamin Watson / CC BY

Insomnia by Benjamin Watson / CC BY

Get into bed as soon as you begin to feel sleepy

Late at night, your body starts to produce a sleep hormone called melatonin. When your melatonin output increases, you naturally start to feel drowsy and ready to get into bed.

Don’t ignore this natural tiredness – it’s a signal from your brain that now is the time to fall asleep. The natural fatigue caused by melatonin release only lasts for about an hour, after which it’s replaced by a normal level of alertness.

Avoid sugary foods and drinks in the evening

Did you know that your diet can have a serious effect on your sleep quality? Certain foods, particularly those rich in sugars and simple carbohydrates, cause your blood sugar levels to spike and your late-night energy to increase.

Avoid eating sugary foods and drinks (including the natural sugars found in fruits) before you sleep. Instead, eat foods that are low in sugar and high in fat and protein, which both digest slowly compared to simple carbohydrates.

Eat a nutrient-dense, low-GI diet for better sleep

It’s difficult to fall asleep on a completely empty stomach. If you go to sleep without eating anything for dinner, your body could go without food for more than 12 hour throughout the night, leaving you fatigued and worn out in the morning.

Instead of filling up on sugary desserts, eat a low-GI diet that’s rich in good fats and protein before you fall asleep. Foods like natural peanut butter, cottage cheese and other lean, high-protein meals are ideal for beating insomnia naturally.

Use sleep supplements like melatonin as a last resort

Melatonin – a sleep hormone that’s produced by your body – is also available as an over-the-counter sleep supplement. Although it’s effective, it’s only worth using as a last resort insomnia cure, since it has some light side effects.

Before you use melatonin or other sleep medication to improve your sleep, use the natural solutions (such as dietary changes and creating a sleep routine) to change your body’s circadian rhythm and make falling asleep at the right time easier.

Restrict the amount of time you spend in bed each night

You might spend eight hours in bed each night, but how much of that time is spent asleep? Many insomnia sufferers only sleep for three or four hours per night, with the rest of their time in bed spent tossing and turning under the covers.

One of the best ways to improve your sleep efficiency and fight insomnia is with a time in bed restriction. Reduce the time you spend in bed until you’re asleep for at least 80 per cent of it, then gradually raise it until you sleep for at least eight hours.

Insomnia by Carlos Martz / CC BY

Insomnia by Carlos Martz / CC BY

Keep a sleep diary beside your bed to clear your mind

From errands to work presentations, it’s easy to obsess over tomorrow’s schedule when you’re trying to fall asleep. Keep a sleep diary next to your bed to record your thoughts and ideas and clear your mind before you fall asleep.

As well as recording your thoughts, keep a log of when you get into bed and, as your sleep habits improve, when you wake up. This will help you track your sleep and see if the natural insomnia cures you’re trying are really working.

Avoid alcohol as a sleep aid, since it reduces sleep quality

Although a couple of glasses of wine might make you feel tired, they have a negative effect on your sleep quality. Drinking more than two glasses of wine two hours prior to sleep can reduce your sleep quality by as much as 50 per cent.

This means that even if you spend eight hours in bed, those two glasses of sauvignon blanc you drank after dinner mean you’re really only getting four hours of sleep. Use behavioural change to make sleep easier and avoid alcohol as a sleep inducing aid.

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