We’ve all been there—lying awake in the middle of the night when we should be asleep. It’s frustrating to say the least. Do you turn the light on, read a book and “give in?” Or do you just lie there with your eyes closed wishing and hoping you’ll fall back asleep? If only it was as easy as counting sheep. Luckily, there are things that can help alleviate insomnia and some of them start well before bedtime.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic. “Sleep is increasingly recognized as important to public health, with sleep insufficiency linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors.”* Pilots and tractor-trailer drivers, for example, are under strict regulation when it comes to how much sleep is required before clocking in. But what if you suffer from insomnia? Experts suggest trying the following:
1. Prioritize Sleep – Our lives are fast-paced and busy, and it’s easy to put sleep on the back burner. However, if you want to sleep well, you need to make it a priority. A recent study found that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to overreact to minor incidents and feel stressed. If that’s not enough, there are physical issues that come with lack of sleep — including increased risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. Put sleep back at the top of your to-do list!
2. Quit Caffeine – We’re not saying you have to give up your morning cup of joe, but you should definitely avoid that late afternoon caffeinated pick-me-up. Caffeine acts quickly—reaching peak levels in your blood within 30-60 minutes. It has a half-life of 3-5 hours—meaning it takes that long for your body to eliminate half the drug. The remaining caffeine can stay in your body causing effects that last from 8-14 hours. Therefore, you should avoid any caffeine after 1pm, just to be safe.
3. Exercise Regularly – Multiple studies have shown that a regular exercise routine can improve sleep. While some sleep experts discourage people from exercising in the evening, the most recent research suggests that time of day doesn’t matter. The most important thing is that you find a time that works for you and exercise that you enjoy so that you’re more likely to stick with it and make it a routine part of your day.
4. “Unplug” Yourself – Are you guilty of checking your email just one more time before bed or dozing in front of the television each night? Catching up on Facebook or scrolling through Pinterest on your computer, tablet or smart phone will trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, which can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm. Turn off your electronics at least 20 minutes before bed to help your body wind down.
5. Eat a Light Bedtime Snack – You may have heard that you should avoid food before bed, but new research in the last decade has countered that opinion. Scientists have discovered two metabolic hormones: leptin and ghrelin. When we eat, leptin signals fullness to the brain, while ghrelin stimulates hunger. The theory is that if we have enough leptin to suppress the secretion of ghrelin, we’ll sleep more soundly. This doesn’t mean you should eat a huge meal right before bed, as it’s a delicate balance, but a small healthy snack is ideal.
*Institute of Medicine. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2006.