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How to Conquer Insomnia: Tips to Get You Sleeping Again

A tired woman lying awake in bed in the middle of the night.

It’s safe to say that most adults don’t get as much sleep as they should. In fact, about 30 percent of the general population complains of regular sleep disruption, contributing to insomnia.

Insomnia not only saps your energy and affects your mood, it can put your health, work performance and quality of life in a downward spiral.

“The most common symptoms of insomnia include difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night, waking up too early, daytime tiredness, difficulty focusing, irritability, depression and anxiety,” explains Joyce Epelboim, MD, FACP, physician at the Penn Sleep Center. Sleep deprivation has also been linked with diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

While this issue tends to affect women more than men, everyone can benefit from changing up their sleeping habits. Simple adjustments in lifestyle and routine can go a long way in helping you get the quality and quantity of sleep you need.

7 Tips to Help You Fall Asleep – And Stay Asleep

1. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it

Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day—even on weekends. This helps your body get into a routine, making it easier to fall asleep at night and wake up feeling refreshed in the morning. By sticking to a schedule, you’ll also be more alert than if you slept for the same total amount of time at varying hours during the week.

“It’s also impossible to ‘catch up’ on sleep, so sleeping extra hours on the weekends will only make it more difficult to get back into your routine come Monday morning,” explains Dr. Epelboim.

2. Avoid caffeine after 2 pm

While you may need a mid-afternoon boost during the work day, experts note that downing an extra cup of coffee or an energy drink to get you through the post-lunch slump could hinder your ability to fall asleep later in the evening.

“Caffeine has a half-life of six hours, meaning that six hours after your last sip of soda, coffee or tea, half the caffeine is still in your body,” adds Dr. Epelboim.

Caffeine can also lead to a vicious cycle: after a poor night’s sleep, you might rely on more coffee to get you through the day. Then, when it’s time to go to bed, all that caffeine makes it difficult to sleep yet again.

For a more natural afternoon pick-me-up, try consuming more protein and whole grains, drinking enough water, or going for a quick walk.

3. Avoid alcohol three hours before bed

Drinking alcohol may make you feel drowsy and help you fall asleep faster. However, it blocks REM sleep, which is considered the most restorative type of sleep. With less REM sleep, you’re more likely to wake up feeling groggy and unfocused.

Dr. Epelboim adds, “Alcohol causes your whole body to relax, including the muscles in your throat – which makes you more prone to snoring and sleep apnea.”

It’s also a diuretic, which increases your need to go to the bathroom and causes you to wake up earlier in the morning.

4. Check your medications

The secret to a better night’s sleep could be found in your medicine cabinet. Many common prescription and over-the-counter medications can interfere with your sleep.

“For example, some medications, like those used to treat high blood pressure and asthma, can cause insomnia,” explains Dr. Epelboim.

Others, including pain relievers and cold medications, often contain caffeine or other stimulants, making falling asleep more difficult.

Talk with your primary care provider if you think any of these may be affecting your sleep. Your doctor can help you decide if you should adjust your dosage or make other changes regarding treatment.

5. Exercise earlier in the day

Getting active during the day can help reduce the stress hormones that often keep us awake at night. Regular exercise also promotes deeper, more restful sleep.

While it’s important to get moving, be sure to wrap up your workout in at least three hours before bed time. This gives your body adequate time to relax, allowing your heart rate, body temperature and adrenaline levels to drop.

6. Reserve your bedroom for sleeping and sex

Using the bedroom for activities other than sex or sleep can make sleep more challenging – particularly if you already struggle to get enough sleep.

Doing work on your laptop or watching TV in bed are bad bedroom habits. That’s because these type of activities cause our brains to form an association between our bed and actions other than sleeping – meaning your brain is then less primed for sleep and relaxation when your head hits the pillow.

“This means you should keep your computers, iPods and cell phones out of your bedroom too – they create distractions and act as stressors at the end of the day,” says Dr. Epelboim.

Researchers have also found that using tablets, smartphones and other electronic devices before bed delays your body’s internal clock and suppresses the release of the sleep-reducing hormone melatonin.

7. Develop a bedtime ritual

Having a relaxing routine each night can help signal to your body that it’s time wind down and prepare for sleep. Taking a bath, listening to soft music and meditation can all help calm you down before bed.

Reading for 30 minutes each night can also provide you with big benefits – one study found it was associated with lower blood pressure and heart rate, and significant reductions in stress. Researchers have also reported that reading a book for as few as six minutes before going to bed reduced stress by an impressive 68 percent.

If none of these methods help improve your sleep, you may be experiencing a deeper issue. Consult with your primary care provider or check out the Penn Sleep Center to learn more about our programs.

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