With more than 40 million Americans reporting difficulty with sleep, people suffering from insomnia might take comfort in the fact that they’re hardly alone in their plight. Sure, those extra waking hours can make a great excuse to complete work, catch up on old movies, or otherwise take advantage of quiet time, but taking any comfort in numbers soon gets cold if sleep problems are wreaking havoc with the quality of your daily life.
While a host of sleep aids on the market claim to offer a quick fix, long lasting solutions to insomnia are more likely to be found in behavioral modification and lifestyle changes. Before you reach for a prescription, take a look at your daily habits. Simple changes in your routine can save you time, money, and possible side affects of medication and go a long way toward preserving your mood, relationships, and productivity.
One of the most obvious things to check is your caffeine consumption, and not just coffee. Chocolate, tea, soda, and diet pills contain caffeine and stimulants that will keep you awake even if your body is crying out for rest. Avoid caffeine after noon, and get in the habit of reaching for herbal teas and caffeine free beverages instead of that double espresso. Chamomile tea is an age-old herbal remedy touted for its calmative effects, as is a simple cup of warm milk.
Proper nutrition and meal planning also contribute to the body’s ability to sleep. Leave a couple of hours between meals and bedtime and curb drinking, as the work it takes to digest a large meal or process alcohol inhibits true relaxation. However, a small snack, which contains tryptophan, magnesium, or naturally occurring melatonin, such as a few almonds or a banana, promotes relaxation.
In general, avoid anything over-stimulating when preparing for sleep. Instead, use the hours leading up to bedtime to wind down rather than up. Regular exercise can help you sleep more soundly but vigorous exercise a few hours before bedtime will have the opposite affect. Turn the TV and computer off and refrain from working. Warm baths, restorative yoga, and reading quietly are all natural aids that calm mind and body rather than agitate, and set you up for slumber.
If travel, time changes, or stress have are disrupting your usual patterns, an over-the-counter sleep aid can provide a short-term solution. However, check with your doctor before trying just any formula, however easy to buy. Most over the counter remedies contain antihistamines, which include a host of possible side effects, from dependency or interfering with other prescription drugs to causing drowsiness during the day.
- Synthetic melatonin, a hormone that’s received a lot of attention in recent years for its ability to regulate sleep cycles, can have side effects that negate its benefits.
- Valerian, another herbal remedy that is available in tea, tincture, or pill form, has a sedative affect, and is relatively safe compared to synthetic sleep aids, may cause side effects including headaches and dizziness.
- Ambien, a prescription drug, is an effective, short-term solution; however, it’s best avoided by those who struggle with addiction and will mask the root causes of sleep disorders.
Underlying issues such as anxiety, stress, medical conditions, or depression are more often the cause of chronic sleep difficulty. While a prescription can offer short-term relief, it’s best ask your doctor about restoring healthy sleep patterns rather than a prescription refill.