Ten practical ways to relieve insomnia 

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No sleep, no wellness!

Great sleep is the foundation for great health. During sleep our physical and mental selves get a chance to relax, rejuvenate and restore themselves so that we can continue to carry out our daily obligations. 

We all know that sleep is important on many levels. We have all heard that we need to sleep in order to grow, or when we are sick we need to sleep in order to get better. We have long recognized even in our children that if they are not sleeping well their behavior becomes unreasonable. That is demonstrated by watching any toddler who has missed their nap! 

Great sleep is recognized as important even in our workplace with the sound advice to sleep on a big decision before making it. 

Sleep is by definition a state of reversible, often supine, decreased muscular activity with specific brain wave patterns, often with eyes closed and a decreased level of consciousness. Sleep is what we want at the end of a stressful day or when we are not feeling well just to tune out and go off the grid for a little while. 

How incredibly stressful it becomes, then, when we want to sleep but it eludes us! Insomnia by definition means that we are taking more than half an hour to get to sleep. While there are many causes of insomnia, such as racing mind, pain, sleep apnea,  and medications, I will focus on providing some practical solutions to help decrease your chances of ongoing insomnia.

1.  Keep a routine bedtime and wake-up schedule. This means trying to go to bed about the same time and getting up about the same time each day. This will help your body’s hormones and circadian rhythm to sync, and this in turn will help you get to sleep and feel more refreshed when you wake up.

2.  Do not look at the alarm clock! Be sure that the alarm clock is facing away from you so you are not seeing the time that is passing as you try to fall asleep. Remind yourself that what time it is is not important and the more you see what time it is, the more likely you are to have further delay getting to sleep. The light emitted from the numbers on the clock can also impair your ability to get to sleep.  

3. Set the alarm for the time that does not allow you to snooze. Snoozing more often than not makes you feel more tired, as you are not able to get into as deep a sleep again. This adds to sleep disruption. Hearing the alarm should tell you that you must get up immediately or you will be late.

4. Try to not eat within a couple hours of bedtime. Eating close to bedtime leads to ongoing production of stomach acids and GI irritation, which add to sleep disruption.

5.  Control pain. If you have a chronic pain condition, give yourself time to find a comfortable position. If medications are needed, take them as directed so that chronic pain is not preventing you from getting to sleep and staying asleep.

6.  Make sure the room you are sleeping in is darkened so that the sun rising earlier than your desired wakeup time does not cause you to wake up sooner than you would like to. You may need to wear an eye mask.

7.  Wear earplugs. Keeping your sleep environment as quiet as possible is helpful in maintaining sleep. Having earplugs in if needed helps to block out distracting noises that can cause you to wake up prematurely. For example, if you know that on Tuesday mornings your recycle truck comes for pickup and it is loud, you may choose to wear an ear plug that night at minimum in the ear that is not on the pillow.

8.   If you take a medication for sleep, take it as directed and see your prescribing provider if you desire any dosage change. Many of the medications that are prescribed to help with sleep have adverse effects if stopped abruptly.

9.  If you have a difficult time getting to sleep or staying asleep, consider setting the mood:  

  • Use blue and green light filters on cell phones and on any backlit electronics and computer screens. This will help to keep your own melatonin level as high as possible, which leads to better sleep.
  • Take a bath at night. Feeling and smelling clean, especially using bath salts such as eucalyptus, is relaxing. 
  • Meditate. Browse the many apps that are available, many of which are free! Mediation will help you to slow down your mind and not relive, rewrite and replay the past or perceived future.
  • Do something relaxing at night such as read a book as opposed to watching a show or another activity that might get you upset.
  • Turn off social media and notifications when getting ready for bed.

10.  Limit your activities in the bedroom to do those that are sleep-promoting. Consider consulting with a sleep specialist to discuss the details of your sleep problem. They can discuss and, if need be, prescribe cognitive behavioral therapy and medications.

Dr. Inell Rosario is a board-certified ENT and sleep physician practicing at Andros ENT & Sleep Center in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. She has many times been recognized as a Top Doctor and Best Doctor in various Minnesota magazines and can be reached at drrosario@androsent-sleep.com or 651-888-7800.