“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” – Old Irish proverb
I don’t know too many doctors who have “sleep books” that include much else beyond Ambien, Lunesta, Rozerem, Sonata, Halcion, Restoril and Desyrel, the common drugs used to treat insomnia. Side effects like drowsiness the following day, confusion, inattentiveness, and drug tolerance and dependence are enough to push you through the withdrawal symptoms and not look back. Did I mention drug interactions, rebound insomnia and the possibility that these medications may mask underlying problems?
“The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to,”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Insomnia isn’t related to any specific amount of sleep beyond getting the amount that YOU need to feel refreshed and rested the next morning. If you’re sleeping seven to eight hours and still feel fatigued during the day, it might be insomnia.
Symptoms of insomnia include: having a hard time falling and staying asleep, having to use alcohol or medications to fall asleep, waking unusually early in the morning and feeling drowsy, irritable or tired much of the day. Add a heavy dose of inattentiveness too.
But if you’re suffering from insomnia and using sleep medications to get a good night’s sleep, you might be worse off than Mr. Fitzgerald.
Why Natural Sleep Remedies are Better Than Lunesta
Whether it’s depression, anxiety, stress, or other psychological issues, medicines you are taking that can cause sleep difficulties (ask your doctor or pharmacist), illness and other sleep related problems, there is hope and help to get back into rock-a-bye-baby land and have sweet dreams.
“Exercise,” according to Harvard Health Publication’s “Workout Workbook”, “is the only proven way to increase the amount of time you spend in deep sleep, the type that particularly restores your energy.” Bet you didn’t think your Total Gym exercise routine could be Harvard’s “proven” answer to your insomnia.
In addition to exercise, what you eat all day also has an impact on how well you sleep, for better or worse. Caffeine, sugar, and too much protein or salt all force your body to work hard, raise your blood glucose levels, create mental altertness, stress out your digestion and increase your blood pressure. (And you’re trying to sleep in the middle of all of this?)
Be sure you are eating foods that have a relaxing effect on your brain. Turkey and chicken breast is loaded with the amino acid L-Tryptophan – it’s the reason so many people take naps on Thanksgiving Day. Dairy products, seafood, nuts, beans, whole grains and spinach are other examples.
Complex carbohydrates will also provide you with that sleepy feeling. Foods like bananas, grapefruit, brown rice, low-fat frozen yogurt, and whole-wheat pasta, which are low in protein but high in carbohydrates, are good options. Foods that are magnesium rich will also add a quieting effect, so try working wheat bulgar, fish, nuts, oranges, artichokes, and any kind of bean. Peanut or almond butter on whole wheat bread or crackers or some sunflower seeds may well be a great anti-insomnia bedtime snack.
After exercise and food come your bedtime habits. You’ve ensured your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool; you are sticking to a regular sleep schedule; avoiding naps and reading from backlit devices before bedtime; and restricting your bedroom for sleep and sex only. You’ve eliminated your bedroom clocks from your view while lying in bed, and you always get out of bed when you can’t sleep and go into another room to do some relaxing that might include reading or a having a warm cup of herbal tea. And finally, your bedroom smells like lavender, you’ve tried the melatonin, valerian root and L-theanine (after checking with your MD, please).
But you STILL can’t sleep.
Here’s where the mind comes in: you start thinking to yourself things like, “I MUST get to sleep!” or, “If I don’t get some sleep, I’ll NEVER pass that exam tomorrow!” Unrealistic expectations, exaggerations, awful-izing, thinking hopelessly, will surely keep you awake.
Try not to get stressed out. Deep breathing, muscle relaxation and challenging yourself to replace your negative thoughts with healthier more realistic thoughts will help promote sleep. Otherwise you’ll be stuck in a very negative cycle that begins with stress-inducing thoughts, which in turn will create physical tension that leads to poor sleep. All of which will lead to you feeling drowsy during the day, drinking more caffeine to stay awake and, you guessed it, more insomnia. It’s all about your state of mind.
So if you are among the 30%-40% of adults with occasional insomnia or among the 10%-15% who have chronic, nightly insomnia, you are now equipped with the most widely used, proven formulas and techniques for better sleep: exercise, sleep promoting nutrition, rational quieter thinking and smart bed-time habits. Read this all, very quietly, to yourself—it may just put you to sleep.