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Insomnia: Improving Your Sleep

Introduction

Insomnia means that you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. It is a common problem. Most people will have sleep problems now and then because of temporary stress, worry, or an irregular schedule. But when you have trouble sleeping for weeks or months, it can lead to health problems. Worrying about it only makes it worse.

The good news is that if you can change the way you think about sleep, and then make some simple lifestyle changes, you may improve how well you sleep. This topic will give you some tips on how to do just that.

  • Lots of things affect how well you sleep. You can use a sleep journal to help you figure out what helps and also what may get in the way of a good night's sleep.
  • Changing one or more of your habits may improve how well you sleep.

How To

Here are some tips that may help you sleep more soundly and wake up feeling more refreshed. You might want to start slowly at first. Pick one thing to change, and see how that change affects your sleep. After a week or two, try to add another change. As you make changes, you might want to use a sleep journal (What is a PDF document?) to figure out what things help you to sleep better and what things may get in the way of a good night's sleep. Step by step, your sleep should improve. If it doesn't, talk to your doctor.

Food and drink

  • Limit caffeine (coffee, tea, caffeinated sodas) during the day, and don't have any for at least 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
  • Don't drink alcohol late in the evening. You may fall asleep with no problems, but drinking alcohol before bed can wake you up later in the night. Otherwise, drink in moderation. Try to limit alcohol to 2 standard drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
  • Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime. But a light snack may help you sleep.
  • Don't go to bed thirsty. But don't drink so much that you have to get up often to urinate during the night.

Healthy habits

  • Go to bed at a regular bedtime every night.
  • Wake up at the same time each day, including weekends, even if you haven't slept well.
  • Get regular exercise. Don't exercise within 3 to 4 hours of bedtime, because the activity can make it hard to get to sleep.
  • Get plenty of sunlight in the outdoors, especially in the morning and in late afternoon.
  • Set aside time for problem solving earlier in the day so that you don't carry anxious thoughts to bed. Keep a notepad by your bed to write down any thoughts or worries that may keep you up or wake you up during the night.
  • Try to not use technology such as smartphones, computers, or tablet devices in the hours before bed. The light from these devices and the emotions that can result from checking email or social media sites can make it harder to unwind and fall asleep.
  • Do something relaxing before bedtime. Try deep breathing, yoga, meditation, tai chi, or muscle relaxation. Take a warm bath. Play a quiet game, or read a book.
    Click here to view an Actionset. Stress Management: Relaxing Your Mind and Body.

In bed

  • Reserve the bed for sleep and sex. A bit of light reading may help you fall asleep. But if it doesn't, do your reading elsewhere in the house. Don't watch TV in bed.
  • Be sure your bed is big enough to stretch out comfortably, especially if you have a sleep partner.
  • Use earplugs or sleep in a different room if your partner's snoring keeps you awake. If you notice that your partner is sleeping on his or her back, turn your partner to his or her side. This may help your partner stop snoring. You may also want to encourage your partner to see a doctor to find out what may be causing him or her to snore.
  • Reduce the noise in the house, or mask it with a steady low noise, such as a fan on slow speed or a radio tuned to static. Use comfortable earplugs if you need them.
  • Keep the room cool and dark. If you can't darken the room, use a sleep mask.
  • If watching the clock makes you anxious about sleep, turn the clock so you can't see it, or put it in a drawer.
  • Use a pillow and mattress that are comfortable for you.
  • Consider making your bed off-limits to your children and your pets. Their sleep patterns may be different from your own and may affect your sleep.

Things to avoid

  • Don't take naps during the day.
  • Don't use tobacco, especially near bedtime and/or if you wake up during the night. Nicotine is a stimulant, which can keep you awake.
  • Don't lie in bed awake for too long. If you can't fall asleep, or if you wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep within 15 minutes or so, get out of bed and go to another room until you feel sleepy.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Lisa S. Weinstock, MD - Psychiatry
Last Revised November 18, 2013

Last Revised: November 18, 2013

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