For people who suffer from insomnia, each night can be a struggle, a constant effort to sleep with little or no success.
Nights can feel endless, with tossing and turning or staring at the ceiling. For many of us who suffer from insomnia, there can be many factors at play, from the inability to turn our brains off to too many distractions, as well as pitfalls in our diet and schedule.
The important thing to remember, though, is that we are not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 50–70 million US adults have chronic sleep and wakefulness disorders.
“People experiencing insufficient sleep are at higher risk for obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression,” said Rebecca Park, a registered nurse from New York City and founder of RemediesForMe.com.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) reports that about 30% of Americans have symptoms of insomnia. “Middle-aged and older adults are more prone to having poor sleep than younger people and women are more likely to develop insomnia than men,” said Park.
Here are 9 ways to get a better night’s sleep:
1. A magnesium supplement
The right supplement can make a big difference. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer and has a calming or sedative effect on the nervous system,” said Sukie Baxter CR LMT LAMT, a posture and movement specialist and author of Perfect Posture for Life.
In fact, it’s impossible for tense muscles to relax when there is insufficient magnesium in the body.
“Two types of muscle filaments, actin and myosin, require calcium to form a muscle contraction and magnesium to release it. In addition, magnesium is essential for more than 300 different chemical reactions within the human body — so basically it gets used up fast when it’s around,” said Baxter.
According to cardiologists in a study published in 2018, magnesium deficiency is drastically under-diagnosed, constituting what could be called a public health crisis.
Of course, “as with any supplement, it’s essential to speak with your medical doctor before adding it to your diet to ensure safety. While magnesium is found in many foods and generally regarded as safe, certain individuals such as those with pre-existing kidney disease should avoid it,” said Baxter.
A walk to the drugstore health aides aisle will show lots of variants of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone naturally released in response to darkness and falls to very low levels during daylight hours. Research has shown that it primes brain activation patterns in anticipation of sleep.
“Melatonin supplements are a popular remedy for jet lag or sleep problems associated with shift work due to the hormone’s ability to reset the internal body clock. Several studies have also found that melatonin can be an effective treatment for poor sleep or insomnia,” said Park.
Lavender has long been used as a folk remedy for insomnia and can be seen in everything from pillows and sleep masks to essential oils and body balms.
“Research has shown that, like valerian, lavender promotes relaxation by regulating GABA receptors and enhancing the inhibitory tone of the nervous system. Studies of lavender as a sleep aid have focused on the use of lavender essential oil in aromatherapy,” said Park.
4. Create the optimal sleeping environment
The right environment can help you fall asleep faster and wake less often during the night.
If you have trouble sleeping, take steps to remedy anything that stimulates you, makes you uncomfortable or interferes with sleep.
5. Eliminate or reduce noise
Your sleeping brain continues to register and process sound. “Noise can disturb your sleep, wake you up or cause you to switch from deep sleep to light sleep,” said Park. “Nocturnal noise can also cause adverse physical reactions during sleep such as raise your blood pressure and increase levels of stress hormones.”
If you live on a busy city street and find it hard to sleep due to traffic and other environmental noise, invest in a white noise machine.
“The constant ambient sound helps to mask disturbing noises,” said Park.
Earplugs and an eye mask can also help you fall into a deeper sleep and stay asleep.
6. Say goodbye to electronic screens before bedtime
If it’s part of your wind-down routine to watch TV or scroll through social media before bed, it’s time to cut it down — or out.
“Light is one of the major factors that can affect our natural circadian rhythm,” said Park. “Blue light tricks the brain into thinking that it is daytime, and interferes with the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. Melatonin tells our bodies that it is time to go to sleep and aids in sleepiness.”
Exercise can improve both the quality and quantity of sleep. It helps to reset the body’s clock, increasing daytime alertness and sleepiness at night. It also promotes sleep by naturally reducing stress and anxiety.
Research has shown that exercise increases both total sleep time and the amount of deep, slow wave sleep.
8. Set a caffeine and alcohol curfew
It may seem impossible to go for dinner without a nightcap or an espresso, but it will be worth it!
“Both caffeine and alcohol can adversely affect your sleep, even if consumed 6 hours before bedtime. If you want to sleep soundly through the night, don’t drink caffeine after 5 PM and limit yourself to one small alcoholic beverage,” said Park.
Stress and anxiety are common causes of insomnia. “Anxious thoughts and worries can trigger the release of stress-hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones prepare the mind and body for ‘fight or flight’ by increasing arousal and alertness,” said Park.
“People who lose sleep due to anxiety can become caught in a vicious cycle because insufficient sleep makes them less able to cope with stressful situations and more prone to develop stress-related disorders,” said Park.
If you are unable to sleep due to stress, relaxation techniques that can slow a racing heart and distract you from your worries can help you fall asleep more quickly and increase your quality of sleep.