Can’t sleep? Nurse Gail Ingram shares natural sleep remedies (also known as ‘sleep hygiene’) to get you back on track:
A reader wrote in and asked: “I can’t fall asleep at night. I’m exhausted. It’s just getting worse. What can I take?”
Sleep is important and we need it for good health and cognitive functioning. We get sick, dumb, and depressed without it. The National Sleep Foundation says adults need between 7 to 9 hours a night with 8 to 8.5 hours being optimal.
Most sleep deprived people want a quick fix like Ambien, clonazepam, Nyquil, or melatonin. Believe me, so do I, but it doesn’t work that way. Prescription medications like Ambien or clonazepam (Klonipin) prevent certain restorative sleep cycles from occurring and defeat the purpose. Without getting deep sleep, we remain dull and fatigued. The active ingredient in Nyquil, Benadryl, and Tylenol PM is an antihistamine called diphenhydramine and it will leave you feeling groggy the next day and your body can become dependent upon it (AKA addicted). The research on melatonin is ambiguous at best and the dosing hasn’t been standardized.
I know it sounds trite, but the best way to get back on your circadian rhythm is to improve your sleep habits. For many people this is a challenge, but it works. Here are some tips:
1. Use an alarm and get on a set schedule. At first you won’t be able to sleep when you put yourself to bed so get up after 20 minutes and do something quiet and mind-numbing, like knitting. Avoid getting on your computer or phone because this will stimulate the brain. Force yourself to get up in the morning no matter how tired and grumpy you might be. Don’t take naps after 3 PM.
2. Help your body to relax. Stop drinking caffeine (including decaffeinated coffee because it DOES have caffeine in it) at least 8 hours before bed and don’t eat big meals 3-4 hours prior to sleeping. Exercise at least 30 minutes per day but not within 3 hours of bedtime. Take a warm bath instead of a shower at night.
3. Daylight and temperature regulate sleep patterns. Get 30 minutes of sun during the day and lower the temperature of the room when you go to bed. The body stirs when temperatures rise and we naturally wake up when it gets light out. Keep the room cold and dark until your alarm goes off. Try using an eye mask if you can’t keep the sun from shining in.
4. Smoking and alcohol disrupt sleep. Both cause users to wake up early without getting enough slumber.
5. Remember the bed is for sleeping and sexy time only. Don’t study in your bed and keep your textbooks, bills, and other reminders of a stressful life out of sight. No TV, phones, iPads, etc. No pets. Use earplugs if your bed buddy snores and keep them from sleeping on their back, which is known to be the loudest position. A white noise machine or humidifier can also help.
6. Check in with your doctor. They will assess you for a true insomnia diagnosis caused by restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, mental illness, or other medical condition which may require further treatment.
I wish I had a magic solution for you, but unfortunately there isn’t one. I can only encourage you to start modifying your sleep habits right away. The sooner you do, the more fit and less sick you’ll be.