Can’t sleep? Here are ways to help you rest
To the best of my awareness, nobody ever died from lack of sleep. If I can’t sleep, by morning I may feel like I’m about to die, but I don’t. When I have a “bad night,” I may feel so badly, I may even wish to do so…die that is. Somehow, I move my body and fail to perish. What’s worse, I usually have to get out of bed and function despite my dull headache, sleepiness, and impending collapse. Insomnia is not fun.
Sleeplessness is rarely a “disease.” It is usually a “side effect” of some other difficulty. Nevertheless, not having enough sleep or no sleep at all makes us feel so poorly, we generally reach for the sleeping medication so as to avoid the lousy feelings. Some people worry so much about not sleeping, they take millions of sleeping “potions” per year in the form of ethyl alcohol, or prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Some become addicted to such sleep aids.
Some people’s bodies do not rid themselves of sleeping drugs very readily, and this may cause daytime sleepiness and poor performance of daily tasks. Additionally, all medications have side effects, some of which are worse than the effects of not sleeping.
Insomnia is usually the result of other psychological and emotional difficulties. Too much anger, worry, depression, alcohol, caffeine, social stimulation, noise, and mental activity all may lead to sleeplessness. Not enough relaxation, exercise, enjoyable activities, emotional contact with others, and laughter may also result in insomnia.
Whatever the “causes” of sleeplessness, here are eight suggestions for creating both an interior and exterior environment which will promote sleep without drugs.
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day
Your body quickly adapts to regular rhythms of sleep/wakefulness. And if your body is conditioned to sleep at the same time every night, it will more easily do precisely that.
Do not sleep during the day
If you try to “make up for lost sleep” during the day, you may split your sleeping time into two halves… one in the daytime and one at night. Then you may wonder why you can’t sleep more than three or four hours at night.
Stay away from the sweets
Avoid eating a lot of sugar in the evening… especially refined sugar.And avoid drinking coffee, tea, colas, and hot chocolate anytime after working hours. Preferably avoid caffeine all the time.
Eat complex carbohydrates for supper
Pasta, potatoes, and breads are good sources of complex carbohydrates. An increase in the biochemical L-tryptophan, found in poultry, milk, pasta, potatoes, and egg whites, often helps people to feel sleepy and drowsy. Also, eat less quantity at your evening meal, so your body will fall asleep rather than have to digest food.
Engage in some form of strenuous exercise
Do this three or four hours before bedtime, and before eating supper. Exercise appropriate to your own physical condition. Allow all the muscles of your body to get a workout. This will help you relax and the muscular fatigue will prepare your body for sleep.
Read yourself to sleep
Just before going to bed, engage in some mental activity that is completely absorbing and different than what you usually do during the day. Quiet reading, painting, playing or listening to gentle music, model-building, or some repetitive task may help you mentally let go of persistent or worrisome thoughts.
Write it out so you stop thinking about it
While lying in bed trying to sleep, if you find you are thinking about what you have to do, planning what you want to say, or obsessing about your work, write down your thoughts, or talk them into a tape recorder at your bedside. This often helps you to “let them go.”
Try warm milk, really
Finally, just before bedtime, drink a warm glass of milk with just a little bit of sweetness in it (like honey), light candles in the bathroom, fill the tub with hot water and sweet-smelling bath oil, and immerse yourself in the bath and sip the warm milk. With peaceful music in the background, luxuriate in the experience. Then roll into bed, turn down the heat to 60 degrees, and doze off into a wonderfully restful sleep.
Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life coach. He serves on the faculty of the International University of Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams) the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!” (W.W. Norton 2005) It is available at your local bookstore or on Amazon.com.