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Do you feel like falling asleep feels impossible? You’re not alone. 50-70 million adults in America suffer from a sleep disorder like insomnia. If you don’t have access to prescribed sleep aids or simply don’t want to rely on them, it’s still possible to overcome insomnia without the help of medication.
Before you feel too hopeless about never getting the sleep you need, ask yourself if your bedtime habits really create the optimal environment for falling and staying asleep.
We don’t always realize that our actions are setting us up for a difficult night’s sleep. This article will help you understand:
- How to identify symptoms that could indicate insomnia
- Common triggers for insomnia
- How to improve sleep “hygiene” (as they call it)
- How you can improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep without medication
This blog post is all about how to overcome insomnia without medication
What are the signs and symptoms of insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, and/or make you wake up too early and not get adequate sleep.
If you have insomnia, you might:
- Take more than half an hour to fall asleep
- Wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble going back to sleep
- Wake up too early and have trouble going back to sleep (AKA starting your day at 4:30am without really meaning to!)
- Feel tired and unrefreshed upon waking up
We often think of insomnia as lying awake for hours unable to fall asleep until 2am. But insomnia can also manifest as waking up in the middle of the night and lying awake for hours unable to fall back asleep too!
Most common causes of insomnia
As mentioned, your evening habits and routine play a bigger role than you think in getting a good night’s sleep.
Here are some common things that can hinder quality and quantity of sleep:
- Eating too close to bedtime – the NIDDK suggests to avoid eating 2-3 hours before laying down at night. This mostly applies if you notice indigestion or heartburn at night.
- Drinking alcohol – alcohol has sedative effects that might make you feel fine falling asleep. But alcohol (especially in excess) has been linked to poor overall sleep quality and duration.
- Stress and anxiety – this one’s probably obvious, but of course if your mind is racing as you’re falling asleep, it’s going to be hard to relax enough!
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- Screen time before sleep – it’s ridiculously tempting and probably ingrained in your nightly routine to spend time on your phone. But the blue light from your phone screen can actually interfere with melatonin production.
So, be honest, do you experience any of these common triggers for insomnia?
These are just a few, but I know I am certainly guilty of at least a couple of these.
The worst time I ever experienced insomnia was when I was dealing with a terrible bout of depression at around the age of 10. I physically could not fall asleep before 5am. Ever.
But what did I do? I admit I stayed up on the computer until 5am just about every night. Probably way more blue light exposure than I needed, and it likely contributed to my inability to sleep!
That was just one factor, as I’m sure my depression contributed more than anything. But that’s the thing–there are usually several factors responsible for our difficulties with sleep.
It’s important to evaluate your habits, as poor habits can work together to exacerbate the problem.
Did you know that I offer a printable mental health journal that will help you overcome unhelpful thoughts and behaviors that may contribute to your poor sleep?
As someone who’s always looking for ways to manage the thoughts that keep me up at night (which in turn improves my sleep!), I knew just how important it was to create a resource that will actually help you out with this.
Go check it out and see the printable mental health journal for yourself!
What you can do to improve your sleep hygiene and overcome insomnia without medication
Some of these are simpler than you think! The “answer” really does lie in your evening and night routine.
Read through the following and ask yourself if you’re really setting yourself up for success when it comes time to fall asleep.
- Avoid caffeine six hours before bedtime – if you’re guilty of grabbing another cup of coffee to fight the afternoon slump (more on how to effectively beat the afternoon slump WITHOUT caffeine here), this can certainly impact sleep ability and quality
- Keep your room cool, dark, and quiet – specialists agree that these elements make for the most comfortable sleep environment
- A great tool that can also create a comfortable sleep environment is a weighted blanket like this one from SensaCalm. If you’ve never tried a weighted blanket, you might be surprised at how secure they can help you feel.
- Exercising during the day – in addition to helping you feel more tired at night, exercise can also help reduce the risk of depression, of which insomnia is commonly associated with.
- Eliminate alcohol three hours before bedtime – researchers at UMich agree that while alcohol has a nice sedating effect, it can hurt your ability to stay asleep. You don’t need to cut alcohol completely, but just be mindful of the time of consumption.
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule – this one is probably a huuuge culprit for a lot of us! How tempting is it to sleep in late when we’re able to? But sleeping at wildly different hours on different days disrupts our bodies sleep-wake cycle–so that’s not good!
- Make an effort to relax your mind – I know, I know, “not stressing” is easier said than done. But aim to do intentionally relaxing or self-soothing activities before bed, such as:
*Random, unexpectedly effective personal tip: Growing up, whenever I couldn’t fall asleep, my dad used to tell me “think of a blank, white sheet.” I still use this and the visual really helps! The next morning, I realize the blank white sheet was the last thing I could remember before falling asleep.
If you still can’t sleep, don’t try to.
If after about thirty minutes you still can’t fall asleep, don’t try to. Michael Perlis, PhD, director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests getting out of bed if you’re truly unable to fall asleep.
He says that it’s problematic to stay in bed if you’re spending too much time trying to fall asleep because it only reinforces sleeplessness, both psychologically and physiologically.
Instead, get out of bed and do a relaxing, low impact activity, similar to the relaxing activities mentioned above. The key is to get out of bed while you do them, if you’ve spent too long in bed trying to catch some zzz’s with no success.
Alleviating the sleeplessness that insomnia brings can be achieved through adjusting poor sleep hygiene habits in your evening and night routine.
And if you find it difficult to implement some of these adjustments to your routine, you might even benefit from mindset assistance like the “blank white sheet” visual trick.
(Honestly, that mindset trick + meditation like what is offered on Headspace are huge for me!)
Insomnia can be incredibly frustrating and disruptive. I wish you the very best of luck in your journey to overcome insomnia without medication!
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