Sleep problems seem to occur at the most inopportune times and we often feel powerless to do much about them aside from popping a sleeping pill. I remember my own fondness for a very popular OTC remedy for a number of months before realizing that I could actually work on improving my sleep without medication. Like most things in life, changing our lifestyles may not be the first solution we turn to but it usually ends up being the most sustainable and successful. Here are 5 quick tips to improve your own sleeping patterns without medication: 1) Create bedtime rituals - Your body needs to wind down after a busy, stressful day, and creating low-stimulation activities such as taking a hot bath, meditation, or reading signals the body it is time to rest. Avoid watching television, bright lights, or listening to loud music as these activities can cause your mind and body to stay alert and engaged wide.
2) Re-program your sleep patterns – There are times we all get into a less-than-successful sleep patterns and it can become problematic for us if we can’t break the cycle. If you are used to staying up late and now need to adjust to an earlier bedtime, try gradually moving your bedtime earlier by about 30 minutes at a time. Incorporating the above bedtime “rituals” will help your body to adjust, and if you have to wake up earlier in the morning you may be sleepier anyway. Avoid napping during the day as this can disrupt the following night’s sleep. Oh and if you wake up in the middle of the night, it can be frustrating to just toss and turn while your mind is racing to try and get back to sleep. It can be helpful to just go ahead and get up and do a low-energy activity (perhaps a bedtime ritual) to get your mind off the task of falling asleep. It can also be helpful to keep a notebook and pen by your bed if you are thinking too much about your to-do list for the next day. Jot down your thoughts or tasks so you can put it out of your mind and re-focus on relaxing.
3) Exercise regularly, but not right before bedtime – Regular aerobic activity has extensive health benefits and sleeping soundly is one of them. Try to find time during the morning, daytime, or early evening to get your exercise in. High energy exercise just before bed will stimulate your body too much and you may have difficulty relaxing.
4) Avoid heavy food and alcohol intake, nicotine, and caffeine late at night – Yes, it’s true that if we enjoy too many cocktails we may become sleepy and pass out due to alcohol’s sedative quality. The problem is that excessive alcohol makes it difficult for us to obtain and maintain a deep sleep. Nicotine and caffeine are known stimulants and some of us are more sensitive to their effect than others. If you’re a coffee drinker, avoid that late afternoon cup if you are having trouble falling asleep at night.
5) Take care of your mental health – Depression, anxiety, and stress can all cause insomnia. Consider if it is helpful to see a therapist to learn how to cope and change your thinking patterns that may lead to trouble in the bedtime department. Mental health professionals can help you find solutions to your problems so you can move forward with your life and get some sleep already!