No one likes to think of themselves as an insomniac. Still, there are millions of people who struggle to get a good night’s sleep on occasion. There’s usually no long-term difficulty with the rare night of sleeplessness, but if the nights without uninterrupted rest continue for weeks on end, you definitely need some help to get the sleep you so desperately need. When you can’t sleep, and don’t want to take medication, here are seven drug-free ways to get your rest. But first, why not take a sleep aid? What’s so bad about that?
Sleep Medications Have Consequences
With all the televised commercials for medications promising a restful night’s sleep, it sounds easy and simple to just go to your doctor and get a prescription, start taking it and, voila, your sleep problems are over. In reality, it’s never that simple. In fact, there are good reasons for not using medications or relying on them to ensure you get the rest you need. Sleep medications, particularly benzodiazepines such as alprazolam and lorazepam (which are also prescribed as anti-anxiety medications), can create more problems than they solve. For one thing, these drugs can be addicting. They can also create problems with misuse and interfere with other medications you currently take or end up causing additional medical problems you didn’t have to begin with. If you’re in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, the last thing you want to do is start taking a drug to help you sleep. It’s still a drug, even if it’s not alcohol or cocaine or marijuana. Getting hooked on a sleeping aid is a cross-addiction — not a good thing when you’re trying to maintain your sobriety. Another caution is that if you’re receiving treatment for a condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), taking these sleep medications can potentially limit the effectiveness of your PTSD treatments.
Pay Attention to Your Sleeping Environment
Where you lay your head at night matters — a lot. This should be a restful environment, not one that’s jarring and stressful, filled with bright clock radio lights or illumination from computers, tablets or smartphones. It needs to be cool, dark and quiet. Sleep experts recommend designing a bedroom that encourages a good night’s sleep.
- Go with colors that are soothing.
- Indulge in higher-quality linens and change the sheets more often. As for sheet thread count, beware of buying 1,000 threads. Higher thread count traps body heat because there’s no way for the heat to escape the thick weave. Go for sheets with a thread count of between 200 and 400.
- Make sure the bedroom has curtains or shades to keep outside light from interfering with your sleep.
- If noise from traffic or other household occupants keeps you awake, invest in a sound conditioner.
Have a Tasty Bedtime Snack
No, this isn’t a recommendation to load up on that gooey dessert before heading off to sleep. That’s more likely to keep you awake than allow you to drift off. Here the sleep experts recommend a snack with tryptophan in it, because tryptophan encourages drowsiness. A snack that combines a carbohydrate and protein — like milk with cereal — is best.
Make Time for Exercise
Everyone knows the value of exercise, but what many don’t realize is how a good workout helps encourage a good night’s sleep. According to those who study sleep, it doesn’t matter much when you engage in exercise — only that you do. The science of exercise and sleep is that a regular workout helps you sleep better and longer than if you neglect to include exercise in your daily routine.
Sex = Good Sleep
Who needs an excuse to engage in lovemaking? Actually, according to the sleep experts, sex is helpful in several respects, not the least of which is that a good round of it helps you nod off to sleep afterward. Because sex boosts your body’s levels of oxytocin — the so-called “love” hormone — it helps you feel more connected to your partner. Oxytocin produced during sex also lowers cortisol — what your body builds up as a result of stress. There’s also research that shows that orgasms can help you feel sleepy and relaxed. That’s due to the prolactin that the orgasms release.
Steer Clear of Late-Day Caffeine
Your idea of a casual meeting with friends at the coffee shop may be a good one. Just don’t wind up having caffeine in the afternoon — unless you want to struggle with your pillow to get to sleep. That’s because caffeine remains in your body for about five to six hours. Give your morning latte time to wear off and avoid drinking caffeinated beverages after early afternoon.
Keep Cool (Or Warm) During the Changing Seasons
Did you know that your sleep patterns change with the seasons? Think about how you toss and turn when it’s still in the 90s outside at night. Drenched with sweat, you’re either too cold with the air conditioner on or the fan you’re using in the bedroom blasts you with too much air or not enough. In the winter, feeling too cold can keep you awake just as being too hot in the summer contributes to wakefulness.
- Take a quick shower in the heat of summer to help you cool off. The moisture will remain on your skin even after you towel off. This is like your body’s sweat — a natural cooling mechanism. And you don’t need to make it a cold shower. Any temperature will suffice. If you long for a soothing hot bath, that’s fine. Just do this about an hour before bedtime.
- In winter, layer clothing or linens so you can achieve the right balance of warmth and comfort. If you prefer a heating blanket, use one with variable heat options and a timer. You just want to be nice and warm to get to sleep. You don’t want to bake in the heat. Once you’re sleeping, having warmed up enough to drift off, you don’t need all that constant heat on your body. A timer helps guard against getting too hot or leaving the heating blanket on too long.
Here’s another rock-solid technique to help you get the rest you need without resorting to drugs: meditation. I like this quote from actor Hugh Jackman regarding the benefits of meditation: “Meditation is all about the pursuit of nothingness. It’s like the ultimate rest. It’s better than the best sleep you’ve ever had. It’s a quieting of the mind. It sharpens everything, especially your appreciation of your surroundings. It keeps life fresh.” If you practice meditation on a regular basis, you already know how it benefits sleep. If you’ve never tried it, now’s an excellent time to check out what meditating can do to help you get the drug-free rest you need.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Adults generally need seven to nine hours of sleep each night to be able to function optimally. Older adults (aged 65+) require between seven to eight hours of nightly sleep. Another interesting tidbit is that people who are sleep-deficient are four times more likely to catch a cold than their counterparts who get sufficient sleep. A 2013 survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that one in five Americans gets less than six hours of sleep on an average work night. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to chronic illness, premature death, vehicle crashes, disease susceptibility, industrial accidents and medical errors. Bottom line: Make sure you’re getting the rest you need. When you can’t sleep, make use of some drug-free ways to help you drift off comfortably — and help you sleep through the night. Sources: National Center for PTSD; National Sleep Foundation