Fighting insomnia with a better sleep environment and routine
Insomnia Can’t sleep? If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, it...

Insomnia

Can’t sleep? If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, it can take a huge toll on your health and well-being. Here’s how to end the sleepless nights.

Senior man lying in bed, alert and upset, one arm clutching pillow, opposite hand clutching that arm as he stares outward

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, resulting in unrefreshing or non-restorative sleep. And it’s a very common problem, one that takes a toll on your energy, mood, and ability to function during the day. Chronic insomnia can even contribute to serious health problems.

Some people struggle to get to sleep no matter how tired they are. Others wake up in the middle of the night and lie awake for hours, anxiously watching the clock. But, because different people need different amounts of sleep, insomnia is defined by the quality of your sleep and how you feel after sleeping—not the number of hours you sleep or how quickly you doze off. Even if you’re spending eight hours a night in bed, if you feel drowsy and fatigued during the day, you may be experiencing insomnia.

Two powerful weapons in the fight against insomnia are a quiet, comfortable bedroom and a relaxing bedtime routine. Both can make a big difference in improving the quality of your sleep.

Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool. Noise, light, a bedroom that’s too hot or cold, or an uncomfortable mattress or pillow can all interfere with sleep. Try using a sound machine or earplugs to mask outside noise, an open window or fan to keep the room cool, and blackout curtains or an eye mask to block out light. Experiment with different levels of mattress firmness, foam toppers, and pillows that provide the support you need to sleep comfortably.

Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Support your biological clock by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, including weekends. Get up at your usual time in the morning even if you’re tired. This will help you get back in a regular sleep rhythm.

Turn off all screens at least an hour before bed. Electronic screens emit a blue light that disrupts your body’s production of melatonin and combats sleepiness. So instead of watching TV or spending time on your phone, tablet, or computer, choose another relaxing activity, such as reading a book or listening to soft music.

Avoid stimulating activity and stressful situations before bedtime. This includes checking messages on social media, big discussions or arguments with your spouse or family, or catching up on work. Postpone these things until the morning.

Avoid naps. Napping during the day can make it more difficult to sleep at night. If you feel like you have to take a nap, limit it to 30 minutes before 3 p.m.

Things to avoid before bed:

Drinking too many liquids. Waking up at night to go to the bathroom becomes a bigger problem as we age. By not drinking anything an hour before sleep and going to the bathroom several times as you get ready for bed, you can reduce the frequency you’ll wake up to go during the night.

Alcohol. While a nightcap may help you to relax and fall asleep, it interferes with your sleep cycle once you’re out, causing you to wake up during the night.

Big evening meals. Try to eat dinner earlier in the evening, and avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of going to bed. Spicy or acidic foods can cause stomach trouble and heartburn which can wake you during the night.

Caffeine. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that you stop drinking caffeinated beverages at least six hours before bedtime. People who are sensitive to caffeine may need to stop even earlier.

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