Sleeping disorders affect 70 million Americans. People who suffer from insomnia have trouble sleeping: they have trouble falling asleep, wake up too early, or even during the night. When they wake up, they have the impression that they have not recovered enough.
Insomnia is not inevitable. Medications such as sleeping pills can be a short-term remedy tailored to certain types of insomnia, but they are not a long-term solution. Other measures can be taken to improve sleep and help with falling asleep. Herbal medicine adapted lifestyle, or aromatherapy is one of the techniques that can be used.
In this article, Gilmore Health will look into the best methods to combat insomnia.
General rules of hygiene to promote sleep
Insomnia is first and foremost a sleep disorder that should not be underestimated: its consequences can be very significant – it is said to be the cause of road accidents or accidents at work. Without going to these extremes, insomnia is responsible for irritability, fatigue, sleepiness, memory problems, and can be associated with weight gain.
When faced with insomnia, do everything you can to avoid it and don’t neglect anything. But above all, regardless of the type of insomnia, age, or situation, if you want to sleep better, you need to follow some simple general rules. This is a prerequisite before you consider taking medication or supplements. Sometimes just adopting a proper sleep technique can solve some cases of insomnia.
This promotes sleep, as long as it is not done before bedtime. It is important to ensure that there are at least 4 hours between intense physical activity and bedtime.
Exposure to light
Our body has a biological clock that follows a cycle of about 24 hours. When this is disturbed, it can cause sleep disturbances. By correcting its dysfunction, we can resynchronize our circadian rhythm which can help us overcome insomnia. There is a simple way to do this: exposure to light. This internal clock depends on factors external to the body. One of them is light. To function properly, the biological clock needs light during the day and darkness at night. If you take the slightest moment to expose yourself to the sun during the day, the clock resynchronizes itself, just as you would correct a clock that is out of sync.
However, be careful about the time of exposure: exposure at the end of the day slows down our rhythm, while light “caught” in the morning has the opposite effect. Therefore, it is best to avoid overexposing yourself at the end of the day.
Establish a sleep routine
Without being too strict, you should go to bed and get up at the same time during the week. To do this, don’t stay in bed when the alarm goes off and get up immediately: Don’t push the alarm button to gain another 5 or 10 minutes. Although the beginning may be difficult, within a few weeks you will get into the habit and the benefits will be felt.
Do not oversleep on weekends! This is only beneficial if you are sleep-deprived after a difficult week. Otherwise, you run the risk of messing up your biological clock. Therefore, it is better to sleep well during the week and not disturb your sleeping pattern by getting up too late on the weekend.
On the other hand, it is counterproductive to go to bed when you are not sleepy in order to stick to your plan. It is better to wait a while to read or listen to music than to force yourself to go to bed when you don’t feel like it. However, the time to get up should remain the same.
Avoid looking at screens before going to bed and during the night
Screens, whether from cell phones, computers, or televisions, are stimulating and disrupt sleep. The news can wait until the morning and the movie or series will be available another day. It is better to put off looking at a screen until the next day than to disturb your sleep and spend the next day feeling tired. The same goes for video games or exciting reading. It is best to do this away from bedtime.
At night, even when waking up, resist the temptation to check the time, which causes anxiety that can adversely affect sleep. So it’s worth it to turn off the alarm and hide the clock.
Using the bed only for sleep
The bed should only be used for sleeping. Increasing the number of activities done in bed (reading, breakfast, listening to music, watching a film, etc.) no longer creates a link between bed and sleep, but rather results in reverse conditioning: the bed becomes a place for daytime activities just like any other, just like a desk or armchair.
Drinks and meals before bed
Tea or coffee contain stimulants that are incompatible with sleep. Drink herbal tea or water instead. Excessive alcohol consumption in the evening may cause you to wake up in the night to go to the toilet; if these night-time awakenings disturb you, reduce the amount of fluid you drink after 6 pm.
Finally, sleep is affected by hormones. Cortisol is released at the beginning of the day and prepares the body for the day. Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is released in the evening.
Food plays an important role in regulating these hormones. Almonds and walnuts are ideal before bedtime: they provide melatonin and contain magnesium, a mineral that helps reduce cortisol levels. Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel) are rich in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which can increase the secretion of serotonin, another sleep hormone. In addition, eating fatty foods in the evening is thought to improve sleep quality. However, be careful not to eat too much at dinner.
Napping is one way to ‘recharge’ on a bad day, but it should be treated with caution, otherwise, you’ll be more tired than refreshed. Napping, in particular, can interfere with sleep in the evening. Naps should not last more than 20 minutes. It is better to “tolerate” a bad day than to ruin sleep for the rest of the week by sleeping too much.
For those who are already sleeping well but not meeting some or all of the recommendations, there is no need to change. If they are happy with where they are, they can keep it.
Preparing the room for sleep
The environment has a big impact on sleep. It should be prepared as much as possible to make it conducive to falling asleep and staying asleep.
The first factor to consider is light. The room should be as dark as possible. Light interferes with the secretion of melatonin.
The second very important and influential factor is temperature. A room or bed that is too warm has a negative effect on sleep and sleep patterns. Everyone should find the right temperature for him or herself, making sure that it is not too high.
Aromatherapy diffusion offers the possibility of changing the atmosphere in a room to make it more relaxing and conducive to sleep. All you need is a diffuser and essential oils. The essential oils to help you fall asleep include real lavender essential oil and red mandarin essential oil.
We spend about a third of our time there sleeping so investing in good bedding is a must.
Phytotherapy and aromatherapy
Phytotherapy and aromatherapy offer natural solutions to combat “accidental” insomnia. In fact, there is not just one form of insomnia, but several:
- Transient insomnia is also known as adaptive or short-term insomnia. It is insomnia that only lasts for a few weeks at most.
- Chronic insomnia that has lasted for months or even years. The causes vary. There are two types of insomnia: primary insomnia, which usually has psychophysiological causes: anxiety, depression, etc., and secondary insomnia, which is generally linked to the presence of some disease or the use of substances or drugs.
Especially in the case of occasional insomnia, so-called “hypnotic” drugs, i.e. sleeping pills, can play a role. They are prescribed by a doctor. They should be taken in the lowest effective dose and should not be used for longer than 4 weeks. The side effects of these medications can be significant: they impair cognitive abilities, increase the risk of falls in the elderly, and can lead to addiction. They are not suitable for chronic insomnia, as they have the opposite of the intended effect when taken over a long period of time. For occasional insomnia, it may be advisable to first try herbal teas. Phytotherapy or aromatherapy is also rich in substances with calming effects, which are perfect to help you get a restful sleep.
Herbs with calming effects traditionally used for insomnia are:
- Valerian root
- Lemon balm
These plants can be taken either as an infusion or as a dietary supplement.
Essential oils help relieve anxiety and stress, relax the body to promote and strengthen sleep.
The hormone melatonin, secreted by the brain, is involved in triggering sleep. Its secretion decreases with age, which is one of the causes of insomnia in the elderly. Several dietary supplements provide melatonin, which shortens the time it takes to fall asleep. They should be taken before bedtime. Melatonin supplementation should remain a temporary solution. But beware: these supplements are not for everyone, and there is a risk of interactions with other medications. Ask your pharmacist for advice if you are considering supplementation.
There are other medical solutions for occasional insomnia that are not sleeping pills. This is the case with medications in the antihistamine family.
Take steps to get back to sleep
While sleeping pills and sedatives are appropriate for occasional insomnia, a variety of techniques have proven effective for chronic insomnia:
CBT (cognitive behavioral therapies), short-term psychotherapies that allow patients to identify and change their behaviors and associated feelings. To benefit from these therapies, it is necessary to consult a specialist (psychologist or psychiatrist). This will guide the implementation of other measures (relaxation, stimulus control, sleep time restriction, etc.).
Stimulus control shows a discipline of life that allows you to mentally associate bed with sleep. Therefore, bedtime follows a precise routine, starting an hour before going to bed. And every day you have to keep a certain time to get up, no matter how long you sleep.
Relaxation aims to reduce the state of heightened anxiety that prevents sleep. It is particularly suitable for anxious people, but not exclusively. There are several relaxation techniques (breathing techniques, progressive relaxation, self-hypnosis, etc.).
Sleep time restriction aims to limit the time the patient spends in bed in order to make this period “useful”. Thus, the patient sets his/her own sleep schedule and goes to bed and gets up only at these times, which causes slight sleep deprivation. After a few weeks, the patient will fall asleep more quickly and his sleep will be of better quality.
All these measures have a positive effect on each other and reinforce each other to increase effectiveness. The CBT practitioner is the conductor. To keep him informed, it is useful to keep a sleep diary and note when you go to bed, fall asleep, wake up in the night and get up again.
In addition, some mobile phone applications offer help with insomnia: filters and night modes for the mobile phone screen, relaxing music to help you fall asleep, meditation guides, etc. Find out more about the app before you install it (who made it, what comments have been made, how it has been rated, etc.).
Adjust your internal clock
Chronic insomnia may be due to poor synchronization of the circadian rhythm. This is a mismatch between the body’s internal clock and the environment.
This clock follows a rhythm close to 24 hours, and our days are divided into 24 hours. In theory, this is ideal, but in practice, our clocks differ by a few minutes or tens of minutes. It depends on the person. During the day, the clock is adjusted by light. The brain perceives this and adapts. Therefore, darkness at night and light during the day are both necessary for good synchronization.
Some people suffer from phase reversal (going to bed and waking up too early) or phase delay (the opposite phenomenon). Therefore, keeping to a “normal” schedule significantly impairs their sleep. One way to “resynchronize” them is phototherapy or light therapy, a technique based on exposure to light at certain times of the day to overcome the time lag.