It always seems to happen—the night before an early flight or a big presentation at work, you go to bed early, determined to get a restful sleep. You toss and turn, the anxiety building as you count down how many hours you have left before your alarm goes off. Before you know it, you’re waking up the next morning feeling cranky and tired, and you spend the rest of the day feeling like a zombie in a bad mood.
Sleep deprivation due to insomnia may seem like a minor annoyance but it can have bigger implications on your health. While it may be a symptom of something going on in your life, such as stress, it can also be a cause of other health problems like an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Read on to learn more about insomnia and what you can do to manage it, beyond counting sheep.
According to the U.S. National Sleep Foundation, insomnia is the difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Its symptoms include fatigue, low energy, difficulty focusing, mood swings, and decreased performance at work or at school.
Insomnia may be acute, which means it’s brief and may happen because of something going on in your life—when you have a major project deadline, for example. Or it can chronic, meaning it happens at least three nights a week and lasts at least three months.
The best treatment will depend on the particular type of insomnia that you have and your specific circumstances. If it has become particularly unmanageable, it’s best to discuss with your physician so that you can come up with a treatment plan that’s right for you.
Sleeping Tips to Battle Insomnia
If you’ve been suffering from a few sleepless nights and the situation hasn’t yet become so dire, then there are natural remedies to combat the lack of sleep and start getting the requisite seven to nine hours a night.
Establish good sleeping habits. You have a designated wake-up time on work days, so you should also have a non-negotiable bedtime. Staying up and sleeping in on weekdays can disrupt your sleep patterns, so try to stick to your sleep schedule as much as you can.
Your sleeping habits can also start earlier in the day. Getting some exercise in the morning may be helpful; try to avoid working out strenuously at night, as this may serve to pump you up instead of helping you wind down.
Make your bed a sanctuary that’s just for sleep. Avoid working in bed and instead use the space for relaxing activities so that your brain associates your bed with rest. Also make sure your bedroom environment is conducive to sleep: Invest in blackout curtains to keep out the light or wear a sleep mask, and keep your phone away from you. Invest in a proper alarm clock instead of using your phone—waking up in the middle of the night to check the time on your phone can easily lead down a social media rabbit hole that keeps you up the rest of the night. (Not to mention the light emanating from your phone signals your brain to wake up.)
Sip on something warm and comforting before bed. There’s something to your mom’s advice of drinking a warm glass of milk before going to sleep. Milk contains an amino acid called tryptophan, which promotes the production of serotonin, the happy hormone that’s a natural sedative. Mix in some honey, which helps speed up the transmission of the hormone to your brain.
You can also try a cup of hot tea. Chamomile is a popular pre-bedtime choice and has in fact been a go-to sleep aid for ages.
Say “ohm.” The U.S. National Sleep Foundation states that meditation has been shown to increase sleep time, improve sleep quality, and make it easier to fall and stay asleep. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that subjects who learned meditation and mindfulness techniques reported less insomnia and fatigue than those who learned basic sleep hygiene.
You can start meditating today. Just find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, close your eyes, inhale and exhale, while focusing your attention on your breath. It’s normal for your mind to wander but bring your attention back to your breath as soon as you notice it happening. You can combine meditation with cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia to reap greater sleep benefits.
Try a natural sleep aid. If you’re wary about sleep-inducing drugs, you can try a natural sleep aid like an herbal medicine for sleep. Valerian root has been linked to better sleep quality for insomnia patients. Melatonin, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle, now comes in supplement form. Make sure you discuss with your doctor before taking supplements as some may have side effects and may interact with any other medications that you may be taking.