Do you suffer from insomnia? Have a hard time falling asleep? Have a hard time staying asleep? Do you toss and turn for hours, counting how much sleep you will get if you fall asleep “right now?” I use to be just like you, but not anymore. Sleep is something we all require. Like food, water, and air, it is essential to our survival. Although the scientific reasons for why we need sleep are still being investigated, we do know that without adequate sleep, humans can suffer from poor quality of life, as well as physical and mental disorders. Certain things do make sleeping (rather falling or staying), easier, and insomnia is something that can be managed, usually without the use of medication.
Insomnia is a common problem. You are not alone. It is especially prevalent in individuals who range in age from 18-25… college years. This is such a common age for individuals with insomnia because of the added stress of college, moving away from home, school work, and homesickness. But, do not worry, I have some suggestions for how you can achieve a full nights’ sleep, without taking any drugs.
Sleep comes in stages. We all know that falling asleep is easy when you are relaxed and in a peaceful state of mind. That’s the first step in falling asleep. Relax. Do not think about stressful things. Learning to mediate before bed may be helpful in this, especially if you are a college student and stressed about school work. Stage one of sleep is very light; you may have experienced this stage while slowly passing out on your living room couch. You are essentially still aware of what is going on around you.
Stage two of sleep is a little deeper, it is associated with the loss of awareness. Stage three of sleep is deeper still, and stage four is the deepest sleep of all. Most people go through a sleep cycle; stage one-to stage two-to stage three-to stage four, back to stage one, that lasts about ninety minutes. As a person moves from stage four to stage one they enter REM sleep. REM sleep is characterized by dreams, and, scientifically, by the loss of muscle control, and rapid eye movement (REM). REM is also known as paradoxical sleep because of the bodies and brains increased activity, while muscle activity is pretty much non-existent. In order to achieve a full night’s rest, one must enter all of these stages for a period of time throughout the night.
If one suffers from insomnia, a quality night’s sleep sounds like heaven; I know. Let’s talk about some tips to get you there.
First and foremost: DICTH THE TV! If you have a hard time sleeping at night, it may be your TV keeping you awake. Turn it off. Even better, take it out of your bedroom. Read a book. A real book. Do not get on social media, do not get on your phone, do not read a book from your phone. Read a real book.
Second: BE CONSISTENT! Try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day; even on the weekends. Try not to disrupt your circadian rhythm; stay on a schedule. Limit day time naps to only thirty minutes. Napping does not “make up” lost sleep, but a short nap can help to improve mood, and increase attentiveness and performance. Establish a bedtime routine; yes, just like what you had as a child. An example of a relaxing bedtime routine may include, a nice hot bath or shower, some stretching, maybe some meditation, and a good book. A bedtime routine helps your body recognize that it is bed time. Try to avoid anything that is emotionally upsetting before bed. Do not pick this time to talk about your deepest feelings with your significant other. The brain must be relaxed to fall asleep; save that conversation for morning. You’ll be happy you did.
Third: NO STIMULANTS BEFORE BED! Alright, this means do not eat fatty foods or greasy foods before you go to bed. Do not smoke, or dink carbonated or caffeinated beverages before bed. The food may cause heart burn, which will keep you awake. The caffeine and cigarettes can keep you awake. Stimulants such as alcohol or marijuana, both of which people associate with a good night’s sleep, may actually have the opposite effect. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but during the second half of the night, when your body starts processing the alcohol, it can disrupt your sleep; best to stay clear. Marijuana has been showed to have an effect on the amount of time a long term user spends in REM sleep. So, while marijuana may help, if you are an occasional user, after years of use, it will deprive you of dream time; disrupting your sleep cycle. If you stop using marijuana you may experience what is called REM rebound. REM rebound is where a person experiences exceptionally vivid dreams after quitting marijuana; this usually only lasts a short period as your body adjusts to having more time in REM sleep than it is used to.
Fourth: GET PLENTY OF EXERCISE AND SUNLIGHT! As little as ten minutes of exercise, especially if it takes place outside, can drastically improve one’s night of sleep. For most people, intense physical exercise right before bed doesn’t work, however, a brisk walk, or jog after dinner can have a tiring effect a few hours later. Exercise in the morning, can help wake you up, and help to tire you out at night. Experiment to see what works best for you.
Fifth: CREATE A PLESANT SLEEP ENVIRONMENT! I already said to ditch the TV, and I’m going to reiterate it here; DITCH the TV! If you are scared of the dark, or just want something to light the way, try a soft blue light in the bathroom, so it doesn’t disturb your sleep. Make your bed as comfortable as possible to best suit your desires. I, personally, like to feel like I’m sleeping on a cloud; we have lots of down pillows. The temperature should be between sixty and sixty-seven degrees for optimal sleep. Some people sleep best with a fan, this may be because the fan works as a white noise machine, and white noise machines have proven to help with insomnia. Consider trying black out curtains, eye mask, and/or ear plugs. Turn your smart technologies off or over so the light cannot disturb you.
Most people find that just a few minor changes in sleep habits can have a significant impact on their sleep quality. Experiment with these techniques and see what works best for you. If you are experiencing prolonged sleeplessness, consider consulting your doctor; you may have other psychological disorders that are preventing you from falling asleep; such as anxiety, PTSD, or depression.