Normally, healthy adults wake up 5-10 times per night but don’t even remember it because they fall back to sleep so quickly. I have a sleeping disorder that wakes me up 20-30 times per night, only I rarely go back to sleep quickly. Sometimes I get only two hours of sleep and have to work the next day. I guess I’ve somewhat gotten used to it (as much as a person can get used to it). Unfortunately for me this means I’m usually catching up on sleep on my days off which doesn’t make for a very fun day off. (I don’t recommend that you do that but I don’t have a choice).
I’m not an expert in sleep disorders. I do, however, know there are many reasons for them, some of which can be fixed such as eliminating caffeine or getting on a better schedule and sticking to it.
Here are some things I’ve tried which have been helpful to me. The more things you can incorporate, the better your results will be.
Firstly, if you are having trouble sleeping on a regular basis, go to your doctor! He or she will be able to rule out certain causes of insomnia such as medications, GERD, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea or other breathing issues like allergies or asthma, hyperthyroidism, alleviate pain issues, detect hormonal imbalances or nutritional deficits.
If you’ve already done that and have had a tune up (what I call adjustments in medications or lifestyle changes) then you may want to consider seeing a sleep specialist.
I’ve been to two different sleep specialists. Both have determined that I have some unidentifiable type of sleep disorder according to my sleep studies. Sleeping medications don’t work for me. They DO help me sleep; however, I just can’t function during the day no matter what the dose or type when on them.
There are lots of problems with not getting a good night’s sleep. First of all you’re body absolutely needs REM sleep in order to survive and function like a normal human being. Sleep deprivation causes mental problems. Being tired during the day can lead to unclear thinking, poor reflexes and irritability. A person may have weakened immunity as well if they don’t get enough sleep. All in all it’s just plain bad!
I have been prescribed a medication that helps me stay awake during the day which in theory would help me sleep better at night. It’s the same medication they give people who have narcolepsy. My sleeping problem started when I was a child. I believe that doing shift work as a nurse has exacerbated it by disrupting my circadian rhythm.
Anyway, I don’t want to be on that medication anymore. Partly because it is ridiculously expensive and partly because I don’t want to be on medications unless I absolutely, positively have to be. It seems I have gotten used to that medication and it ultimately stopped working for me anyway. So I’ve tried everything I’ve ever read about and have come up with ways on my own to help myself fall asleep and stay asleep. It hasn’t cured or entirely fixed my problem but I believe these tips and ideas could greatly help people whose sleep problems aren’t as severe as mine.
1. Get on a regular schedule. Get up and go to bed at the same time regardless if you’re working or not and no matter if you had a terrible nights sleep or not. Even if you only got one hour of sleep, get up when the alarm goes off.
2. No caffeine after noon. That seems extreme but I’ve tried stopping caffeine at every single hour and have noticed that if I have some even as early as 1pm it does affect my sleep. It would be best to eliminate it altogether but for some of us with really bad sleep issues it can be extremely difficult to get going in the morning without “something” to wake us up.
3. Have a bedtime routine. For me it is taking a warm (not overly hot) bath and listening to guided meditations or talks on YouTube that are relaxing. I don’t look at the screen but have my phone to the side. You could use a Bluetooth speaker or headphones if you want.
4. Don’t eat before you go to bed. Have a few hours (at least) for your food to digest before laying down for the night. If you need a snack keep it very small like a few crackers.
5. If you wake up in the night to go to the bathroom, don’t turn the lights on. Have a small nightlight instead to get you there and back safely. Don’t turn the light on in the bathroom. Don’t even flush unless you have to. Don’t wash your hands with cold water. For the middle of the night, I just use hand sanitizer. It’s FINE. I wash them again in the morning. Also, go to the bathroom right before hitting the hay and don’t have anything to drink two hours before bedtime.
6. Keep your bedroom on the cooler side. This one thing has made a big difference for me.
7. Turn your mind off. If you have anxiety or just have an active mind at night, thinking about all the things you’ll need to do the next day, keep a pad of paper and pen next to your bed. Before trying to fall asleep, write down all the things you have to do the next day that you otherwise may forget. Writing things down allows your mind to let it go because you relax knowing you won’t forget.
8. Find out if you have any gluten sensitivities or candida overgrowth. I suffered from a lot of bloating and abdominal discomfort due to that issue which seemed to affect me more at night. Maybe just lying there I was more aware of it. Another possible reason is that sensitivity symptoms can happen hours after eating something (which can make knowing what you’re sensitive to very tricky). Eliminate any food allergies or sensitives you have. Don’t eat heavy, greasy foods for supper. Eat a heavier lunch and lighter supper.
9. If you have arthritis pain in your joints or back I would advise trying to keep your joints loose during the day, stretching exercises during the day, over the counter medications (Tylenol, muscle rubs), a heating pad or keeping that part of your body covered at night (if it’s your knees you can wear those slip on elastic knee supports. For your back, be sure to wear a shirt or nightgown to avoid a chill. Wear socks if your feet get cold or hurt and so on)
10. Also regarding pain and comfort, use the right kind of mattress and pillows. A firm mattress helps back pain but can be harder on hips and shoulders. I found that I can’t sleep on a mattress that’s too soft or my lower back is in agony. However, if it’s too firm my shoulders and hips are killing me. My solution is a slightly firmer mattress and various pillows to cushion certain parts of my body. This could take a lot time of trial and error to figure out. I’ve probably purchased hundreds of dollars of pillows and know I’ve purchased thousands of dollars in mattresses. It is worth every penny to find a solution that works for you though and could be the answer to your sleep problem if it is associated with pain. You can also try a body pillow.
11. Add magnesium rich foods into your diet: Kelp, wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, cashews, buckwheat, brazil nuts, dulse, filberts, millet, pecans, walnuts, rye, tofu, soy beans, brown rice, figs, dates, collard greens, shrimp, avocado, parsley, beans, barley, dandelion greens, and garlic. Be sure to have your doc check for your magnesium level. Here is some info about Magnesium:
▪ Most people benefit from 400 to 1,000 mg a day.
▪ The most absorbable forms are magnesium citrate, glycinate taurate, or aspartate, although magnesium bound to Kreb cycle chelates (malate, succinate, fumarate) are also good.
▪ Avoid magnesium carbonate, sulfate, gluconate, and oxide. They are poorly absorbed (and the cheapest and most common forms found in supplements).
▪ Side effects from too much magnesium include diarrhea, which can be avoided if you switch to magnesium glycinate. *
12. Reduce blue light exposure in the evening. If you have an iPhone there is a blue light filter that is located under Settings/Display & Brightness called “Night shift.” You can schedule it to turn on and off at any time. Mine is set from 7pm to 7am. (Android hasn’t made this feature available on all of their phones so you’ll just have to check your settings. If you don’t have it on your phone you can purchase blue light filtering glasses such as the ones listed here). Blue light is especially problematic to look at during the night if you have sleeping problems. It messes up your circadian rhythm by making your brain think it’s daytime. If you have kids, I suggest they do not use cellphones at night because it could possibly set them up for sleeping problems. I recently watched a documentary in which a physician discussed this briefly. The leading pediatric sleep specialist in the documentary said that today, more than ever, children are having more sleep problems due to too much screen time and video games. He says it towards the end of this documentary.
13. No daytime naps! No matter how hard it is to stay awake. Tough one, I know. (Though some people swear by a short nap of its before a certain time. I guess this is personal opinion).
14. If you’re a clock watcher, cover up your clock.
15. Use your bed for sleeping and sex only.
16. Avoid drinking alcohol to help you sleep. It may make you sleepy at first but when the effect wears off it could actually have a rebound effect of waking you up.
17. Try using white noise. Some people find the sound of fan relaxing. Don’t have loudly ticking clocks or any extraneous noises that you can prevent in the room. Try YouTube videos of white, pink and brown noise.
18. Get lots of sunlight during the day. Just like keeping the room dark at night helps keep your circadian rhythm on track, getting natural light during the day helps your sleep cycle. If I can’t get sun during the day I use a special lightbulb that mimics the sun. I actually can’t wait for this cool lightbulb to be available.
19. Get plenty of exercise but don’t exercise 3-4 hours before sleep time.
20. “Count sheep.” You don’t actually have to imagine sheep and count them but finding something repetitive for your mind to do can be beneficial for those whose minds race at night. What works for me sometimes is imagining I am writing out sentences (in my mind only, I don’t move my fingers). It could be a prayer or mantra or any sentence such as “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” or even a nursery rhyme or song. It’s really hard to think about other things when doing this.
21. Shut your phone off completely at night so you aren’t disturbed by any notification or even the sound of a vibration. If you’re worried that you’ll miss an emergency call, have your partner or other family member leave their phone on. Don’t forget that you’ll need to use a regular alarm clock if your phone is off though!
22. Use a sleep mask and/or earplugs if light of any kind or sound bothers you.
23. If you grind your teeth see your dentist about a mouth guard or ways to stop. If you clench your teeth, practice loosening your jaw and letting your mouth relax while your lips separate slightly before going to bed every night.
24. Learn how to meditate. This has been a huge help for me. If I can’t sleep, I use the time to meditate rather than get out of bed. It has helped me to learn to remain calm and still while getting some alpha waves my brain needs. (Some people say if you can’t sleep get out of bed. I totally disagree with this. For me, personally, it only keeps me more awake).
25. Avoid sleeping pills. You can become dependent on them.
26. Try doing a mental “talk down.” This means telling yourself things like “I’m resting my head on my pillow now. It’s time to go to sleep. I will rest peacefully now knowing that I’ve done my best and the day is done. The room is dark and quiet. My bed and the room temperature is comfortable. I am comfortable. I am at peace. I will fall asleep quickly. I deserve and will get a full night’s sleep. All is well. I am safe. No one needs anything from me at this time. This is my time to replenish and restore my mind and body” or something to that effect!
27. Try visualization. Visualize some magical place where you can fully immerse yourself. Try to use all of your senses. My visualization is a place with rolling hills of green grass with a woods and creek to the side. Sometimes I lay on a hill in the sun or walk or run around the hills and sometimes I wander into the woods or near the creek at night and I shine crickets chirping etc. It is my happy place where all kinds of good things have been imagined. Sometimes I find things in the woods or run into people I’d like to spend time with. Seems silly writing this but it helps me.
28. Practice deep breathing. Don’t go crazy and hyperventilate but do take several deep inhalations and complete exhalations. This is a signal to your body that you are safe and it’s time to relax. When we breathe fast it’s usually because we are anxious. Our mind could sense this as a fight or flight response and release certain hormones that keep us awake. Also, many of us are shallow breathers and don’t fully expand our lungs to receive enough oxygen. Deep breathing has been associated with a longer lifespan and is worth incorporating into your life whether or not you have insomnia. Check this out to learn more about it.
29. Don’t sleep with your pets. They take up room so you can’t fully get comfortable and can move around which could wake you up unnecessarily. (I admit I am guilty of sleeping with my small dog. We tried sleeping without her but we missed her).
30. Try eating foods rich in zinc: pumpkin seeds, whole grains and almonds. This medical article says that zinc acts as a sleep modulator.
31. Listen to night sounds like crickets chirping. Alternately you could try listening to the sound of rain or perhaps waves crashing on a shore.
32. You may also want to try listening to frequencies that promote a delta (deep sleep) brain wave state.
33. Do a progressive muscle relaxation technique. I love doing yoga nidra.
34. Try using a weighted blanket or make your own like I did with a blanket and feed corn. It should be about 10% of your body weight.
35. Try self-hypnosis. The technique I use is really simple yet effective. I stare at a spot on the wall or ceiling and keep my eyes focused on it. Eventually when I need it blink I do so very slowly then open my eyes again. I keep doing this over and over again always forcing my eyes back open while saying to myself that I’m getting sleepier and sleepier and that my eyelids are getting heavier and heavier. Eventually I feel Ike I just can’t even open my eyes anymore no matter how hard I try.
36. Melatonin. The dosage for you may be different than another adult. If you choose to take this OTC supplement start with a very small dose and gradually increase it. Too much melatonin can have the opposite effect! Read this.
37. Use blackout curtains. (Again for circadian rhythm balance).
38. Try ASMR. Some people find certain sounds to be extremely soothing such as tapping, crinkling, whispering or brushing. There are tons of ASMR videos on YouTube. You would really just have to search and play different ones to see if any of them do the trick for you.
39. Use natural fibers like cotton for sheets and blankets. The right blanket can really make a big difference. We don’t use a comforter but rather a cotton bedspread. We got it from Target. It is the kind that gets softer and better the more you wash it just like your favorite pair of jeans or t-shirt. We tried more expensive ones but have been extremely happy with the way this one looks and feels. It is on the lighter side. Hubs and I each have a smaller, comfy, fuzzy throw blanket that we can use over the top to customize our sleeping experience.
40. Use a pillow spray or essential oils in lavender or vanilla.
41. Declutter your bedroom. Eliminate electronics and do NOT use your bedroom as a work space.
42. If you are prone to hot flashes you can keep a clean cotton shirt or pajamas next to your bed along with a container of baby wipes. You don’t want to have to get up, go to the bathroom for a washcloth then your dresser for fresh clothes etc. The less you move around the better for falling back to sleep. If they are really bad you can sleep on a soft towel and remove it after a bad hot flash so you aren’t getting a chill from the damp sheets.
43. Surround yourself with cooler and neutral colors. The color blue-gray is scientifically proven to help calm you. It activates ganglion cells in your retina which help control your circadian rhythm.
44. Keep your sheets fresh. I don’t know what it is about fresh sheets but when I change my sheets I always get a better night’s sleep. I use percale sheets. Those are the kind that a lot of hotels use that tend to stay “crispy.” These are the exact brand we use.
45. If you live in a quiet neighborhood leave your window open when the weather is right for it. Fresh air and night sounds are the best. We can hear owls outside our window, sometimes crickets (we also hear coyotes but that’s not especially relaxing). Even city dwellers can sometimes find the sound of traffic soothing like a white noise, as long as there aren’t too many sirens, motorcycles or construction going on.
46. If melatonin doesn’t work for you, try valarien root. Dosage and info here
47. Eliminate stress from your life as much as possible. Follow this blog or others like it for health and wellness tips and ideas for self-care. You can never get enough self-care.
48. Have sex before bed. For some people it can put them right to sleep. It can’t hurt!
49. Sleep naked. Try it. You might like it.
50. Get a massage. If you have a willing partner ask them to rub your shoulders and back a little before hitting the hay. You could also do self-massage on your shoulders which I do sometimes. Use a little oil and something like this. I got mine from AliExpress for less than $5 and no shipping cost. You must be willing to wait several weeks for delivery from China though.
51. Listen to this song by Marconi called weightless. It’s scientifically proven to help people sleep.
52. CBD oil like this.
There you have it! I sure hope these things help in your quest to sleep well. I personally understand the struggles and have tried every single thing on this list plus some unconventional things like feng shui, etc.
Sleep is vital to your well-being and health so don’t give up trying things to improve it.
I wish you the very best luck.
May you be happy and well!