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Tips for How to Fall Asleep

I am truly in awe of anyone who can fall asleep the minute their head hits the pillows. It is never that easy for me. I lay there, recounting every single task I must tackle the next day. The list runs through my brain on a constant loop of sleep-interrupting torture.

Of course, I work hard to keep from overthinking. Forty-seven position changes, 13 pillow fluffs, and an entire routine of “covers on covers off” ensues before I can drift off into sleepy land. Every. Single. Night.

What is insomnia?

Apparently, I am not alone in my sleep struggles. Only 38 percent of U.S. adults say they wake up feeling rested each morning. That means there are a lot of un-rested (and likely cranky) people walking around out there each day. According to the American Sleep Association, nearly 70 million people have a sleep disorder that prevents a restful night’s sleep. Of those, 30 percent are dealing with insomnia.

Insomnia is the medical term for people who have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep at least three nights a week. There are classifications of insomnia, including short-term and chronic. Short-term insomnia typically lasts less than three months. Sleep issues that stretch on beyond three months are labeled as chronic insomnia. When that happens, your healthcare provider likely will test to see if your insomnia is causing other health issues or if pre-existing health conditions can be attributing to your inability to sleep well.

When people are constantly deprived of a good night’s sleep – that’s 7 or more hours a night for most adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – bad things can happen. Falling asleep at the wheel is just one of them. Drowsy driving accounts for 100,000 police-reported crashes resulting in more than 1,550 deaths and 71,000 injuries. It is important to figure out what is causing your insomnia so you can get relief.

What causes insomnia?

There is no one reason a person develops insomnia. Stress and anxiety, an irregular sleep schedule, mental health disorders, and physical aches and pains are all contributing factors. Clinically speaking, insomnia puts our bodies in a state of hyper-arousal that can provoke physical and mental reactions in our bodies. Hence, the “list of things to do tomorrow” that runs through my mind most nights. That is mental hyper-arousal.

Many insomniacs claim that stress is the leading cause of their sleeplessness. There is some evidence to support their thinking. Any stress can be compounded by ongoing sleeplessness. When you keep pouring on new reasons to worry, it gets harder and harder to break the cycle of stress-induced insomnia.

Is it insomnia…or something else?

How can you determine whether your sleepless nights are a true case of insomnia or something else? The first thing to do is to schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your concerns. Your healthcare provider can conduct a full physical to determine if there is a physical factor involved in your sleep issues. Certain physical conditions can contribute to poor sleep. Once those underlying health concerns are addressed, your sleep improves.

If your doctor can find no underlying cause for your sleep disturbances, you may be referred to a sleep study. During a sleep study, your body activities – brainwaves, breathing, heartbeat, eye movements, body movements – are monitored and recorded. Medical professionals then analyze the data to determine if you have insomnia and if so, what is causing it.

How your body reacts to insomnia

Insomniacs often are mistaken for people who have had a little too much to drink. That is because the effects of too little sleep can mimic those of someone who has had a few too many drinks. So, for example, you have the same difficulties with coordination, judgement, and reaction time as a drunk driver.

How is this possible? It is pure science, my friends. When you are awake, your body builds upAromaWork a hormone called adenosine. During sleep, your body breaks down adenosine. At least, that is the way it is supposed to work. When you cheat yourself out of adequate sleep, adenosine continues to build up, and the effects are not cool. Extreme sleepiness, slower reaction times, brain fog, and trouble concentrating result. Some longer-term health effects are more serious, including diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

Falling deeper and deeper into sleep debt

Some people fool themselves into thinking they can catch up on lost sleep later. I am one of these people. I routinely promise myself that I will sleep in on the weekend or go to bed earlier tonight to make up for the lost Zzzzzs from the last night. It never really works that way though, does it? Researchers say there is no such thing as “catching up” when it comes to lost sleep. You may get a temporary boost from a 10-hour sleep session after 24 hours of awake time, but the effects are more of a stop-gap measure than a long-term solution. Your sleep deficit will come back to haunt you.

There is one exception: napping. For it to work, it must be done before your next regular sleep cycle begins. In other words, if you only slept five hours last night, taking an afternoon siesta is an effective way to counter that sleep loss. Early- to mid-afternoon power naps that last around 20 minutes are the most effective and will have the least impact on you falling asleep later. The only thing worse than napping to help with insomnia is napping too late in the day and having it contribute to your difficulties falling asleep later.

Tips for improving sleep quality

Some cases of chronic insomnia require treatment by a medical professional. If you are among the lucky few who, like me, experience only occasional difficulty with sleep, then the following these tips for improving your sleep quality can help.

  1. Establish a bedtime routine
    Routines are not just for children. Many people cringe at the suggestion that they should not be staying up late several nights a week. I hate to break it to you guys, but your bodies work best when you indulge in a regular sleep schedule. That means going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day. It does not matter if it is a weekday or a weekend. Sticking to your sleep schedule is the best thing you can do for your overall health and well-being. If you are the type who regularly stays up until 1 a.m., you may have to work backward to achieve a more optimal bedtime. Start by backing up your bedtime 30 minutes each night until you reach your goal. It will help your body better adjust to the change.
  2. Turn out the lights
    I probably do not have to tell you that your brain is stimulated by light. Yes, that includes the light from lamps, the TV, and our blessed smartphones and other electronic devices. Dimming the lights at least 2 hours before bedtime can help signal to your brain that sleep time is near. I know this will annoy some of you, but this also means you need to get off your devices. While all light disrupts melatonin production, blue light is the worst.
  3. Take a warm bath or shower
    Right about the time you turn off your devices and dim those lights, consider taking a warm bath or shower. Just 10 minutes in warm water can help your body relax. If you do not want to go the full nine with a shower or bath, soaking your feet can have a similar effect. If pain keeps you awake at night, consider using a topical pain relief spray right after your warm bath or shower.
  4. Indulge in aromatherapy
    Few things calm my brain easier than the power of essential oils. You must choose the right blends, though. For instance, infusing orange or lemon oil at bedtime would work against you because both are known for their invigorating properties. Some better choices include jasmine, lavender, marjoram, and vanilla. Lavender is proven to “speak” to your nervous system, promoting relaxation. You can apply essential oils to your bed linens or diffuse them at your bedside for the best results. Another handy way to benefit from essential oils is with the Aromaworks Aromatherapy SLEEP Inhaler. Inhale deeply 2-3 times with each nostril and it will work its magic.
  5. Skip the furry bedmates
    Sleeping with our pets is tempting. They are cute and cuddly and hard to resist. Nonetheless, research indicates they can contribute to sleep disruptions.

Fall asleep faster

Sleep disturbances add up, making us unpleasant to be around and unable to function safely. If your lack of sleep has turned into a lifestyle, it pays to get the problem under control before you suffer serious health effects. Try these tips for achieving a more restful sleep and talk to your doctor if insomnia persists.

Sweet dreams!

Shari Berg is a researcher, frequent blogger, feature writer, and author of Wars End with Me


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