They’re placed under a category called sedative hypnotics and include benzodiazepines and barbiturates. You’ve probably heard of the benzodiazepines, or psychotropic drugs, called Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Librium, which are also known as common anti-anxiety medications. Because they can induce drowsiness, they can help people sleep, but these drugs can be addictive too — and that’s not a good thing.
“It truly is cruel,” Simpson says. "Women may have had no problems with sleep their whole lives, except they can’t get any because their children or their job are keeping them up. Then they get the kids raised and the job slows down, and their sleep patterns go absolutely haywire. During menopause, women’s rates of insomnia go through the roof, and their rates of sleep apnea become more or less equivalent to men.”
Sleeping pills and other sleep-promoting pharmaceuticals can offer a short-term solution to a temporary bout of insomnia. And plenty of people use them. But often, prescription sleep aids come with unpleasant side effects like headaches, sore muscles, constipation, dry mouth, daytime fatigue, trouble concentrating, dizziness, and more. Add them all up, and they’re about as bad—if not worse–than your garden variety sleep deprivation.
Use white noise to fall asleep in noisy environments. White noise is a constant, unobtrusive noise that helps you ignore disturbing sounds, like noisy neighbors or a busy street. It can be the sound of static, raindrops, rustling leaves, or calm, wordless music. You can look for a white noise channel on your video or audio streaming service, or invest in a white noise machine.
Practice 15 minutes of simple, yoga-like poses (such as neck rolls, shoulder rolls, and arm and back stretches) to help your muscles unwind before hitting the sheets, says Helene A. Emsellem, MD, the medical director of the Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, Maryland. But go slowly. “The goal is to loosen your muscles to prepare your body for a good night’s sleep, not increase your heart rate,” she explains.
It may sound hippy dippy, but if you focus on it effectively, daydreaming about relaxing scenes can really help ease your mind. During visualization, know that it’s OK if your mind wanders but keep returning your focus to the scene. Try out different methods and audio tracks to see what works best for you. Visualization can also be a helpful mid-day stress reliever to keep in mind.
7. Caffeine is also a stimulant and is present in coffee (100-200 mg), soda (50-75 mg), tea (50-75 mg), and various over-the-counter medications. Caffeine should be discontinued at least four to six hours before bedtime. If you consume large amounts of caffeine and you cut your self off too quickly, beware; you may get headaches that could keep you awake.
Adjustable beds also allow you to change the angle of your upper body and legs. This can be particularly helpful for people who experience conditions like lower back pain or swelling, since these adjustments can reduce back tension and promote circulation to improve comfort. Acid reflux keeps many people up as well, and elevating the upper body can make a significant difference.
Get comfy in bed and try what's known as the "4-7-8" breathing exercise. "This technique is also known as 'The Relaxing Breath' and helps promote better sleep," Tramonte says. To do it, simply breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold it for seven, then breathe out through your mouth for a count of eight. And just like that you'll be asleep.
The most important thing is taking that time off—it’s more conducive to your productivity. A lot of times people think they can like fight through and push harder and harder and harder to get better results, but sleep can give you that, too. When you transition in and out of sleep, your brain produces theta waves, which help you think more divergently. That’s why a lot of times when you wake up from a power nap or from sleeping, you’ll be able to solve that intractable problem that you couldn’t earlier in the day. That’s one of the reasons I think taking a break—whether it’s meditation or nap—during that circadian dip can be much more conducive to productivity.
Each of us has different patterns of high and low states of energy throughout the day. Some people find that exercise in the morning can go a long way toward keeping their energy level consistent during the afternoon. A secret known to those who have become habitual exercisers is that effort creates energy. Don’t wait for energy to come when you are tired; as soon as you begin to feel that afternoon slump, shake it off by moving your body. Try taking a brisk walk after lunch. It may be what you need to keep you awake and alert the rest of the day.
The best way to find out if you are getting enough sleep is to note the time when you go to bed and when you wake up. If you don’t have trouble falling asleep, you can assume it takes about 15 to 20 minutes for you to fall asleep. Add those 20 minutes to the time you went to bed, and then subtract from the time you wake up. Is it somewhere within the recommended range of 7-9 hours?
One thing experts say you should never drink right before bed? Alcohol. Not only can it trigger heartburn or indigestion (common sleep deterrents), but too many liquids right before bed can also lead to nighttime trips to the bathroom. "It makes you fall asleep, but the downside is multiple awakenings and arousals during the night that make you feel un-refreshed in the morning," Dr. Dasgupta cautions. That doesn't mean you can't have that glass of Merlot at dinner—just make sure you have a few hours of buffer before hitting the hay.
4. Sleep in a familiar, dark, and quiet room that is adequately ventilated and neither too hot nor too cold. If possible, try to use this room for sleeping only, so that you come to associate it with sleep. In time, your room could become another sleeping cue. If your sleeping environment is sub-optimal, try to use aids such as earplugs or a sleeping mask.
There is usually no particular biological or health reason to worry about sleeping less or more than other people. Your spouse might get mad at you if you sleep too much and you might get into hot water if you nap on the job, but most people have no reason to worry about going outside the norms when it comes to sleep duration. You might think sleeping too much is a problem, that excessive sleep is a waste of time, and indeed hypersomnia is recognized as a clinical condition. But not all long sleepers can be classified as hypersomniac and in any cases, there is nothing doctors can do for hypersomnia except prescribe stimulants. So it may not be worth worrying about.
A very helpful tool to track your sleep time and patterns is a sleep diary. Used in sleep research and clinical settings, a sleep diary is a handy reference to help people become familiar with their own natural patterns of sleep and wakefulness. The information that you will record in the sleep diary is simple and straightforward. It includes the time you go to bed, the time you wake up, your total hours of sleep, and whether you had any nighttime awakenings (and if so, how long you were awake) and any daytime naps. In addition, noting how you feel upon awakening (refreshed or tired), and how you feel at different times of the day will enable you to become more aware of your patterns, and help you determine if you are getting adequate sleep. Just keeping track of your sleep in this way may help improve your situation. If you need more help to improve your sleep, refer to Adopt Good Sleep Habits and Address Your Sleep Issues.
We evolved from bacteria in the ocean that could differentiate sunlight from darkness—that’s what ended up forming the human eye. That means every organism is responsive to a circadian rhythm that’s largely dictated by sunlight. The photo receptors in our eyes pick up on sunlight, which controls the release of melatonin and all these other neurotransmitters that dictate your energy levels throughout the day.
When we can't sleep, we become more focused on it. Panicked by our lack of shut-eye, we make constant changes to improve the situation - whether that's going to bed earlier, having longer lie-ins, or watching TV in bed. Consequently, we spend less time actually sleeping in the bedroom. The result? The connection between bed and sleep becomes weak, and we effectively un-learn how to sleep.
If you’re anxious or distressed at bedtime, the best medicine may be a face full of ice-cold water. When you’re in a full-on state, your nervous system desperately needs to be reset to help you calm down. Submerging your face in a bowl of cold water triggers an involuntary phenomenon called the Mammalian Dive Reflex, which lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. Then it’s off to bed with a soothed system.
There are two hormones in your body that regulate normal feelings of hunger and fullness. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin sends signals to the brain when you are full. However, when you don’t get the sleep you need, your ghrelin levels go up, stimulating your appetite so you want more food than normal, and your leptin levels go down, meaning you don’t feel satisfied and want to keep eating. So, the more sleep you lose, the more food your body will crave.
According to one study, exposure to electrical lights between dusk and bedtime might negatively affect our chances at quality sleep. Assuming you don’t want to sit in the dark for hours, find the happy medium by dimming the lights as bedtime draws near. Also consider changing all light bulbs to “soft/warm” varieties with a color temperature less than 3,000 kelvins, all of which can reduce lights’ effects on our nervous systems.
Time to bust some long-held myths: Waking up early does not make you a better person. The early bird does not always catch the worm. Your circadian rhythm is your internal body clock, and it’s going to look different to your neighbor’s. When you go to sleep and wake up in accordance with your body’s natural circadian rhythm, you’ll sleep better, and be more alert and productive during the day. Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep expert, identified four sleep chronotypes (aka your circadian rhythm personality). These are:
It’s tempting to reach for coffee when we’re tired after a poor night’s sleep, but drinking caffeine can make it harder for us to fall asleep at night, creating a vicious cycle. Effects of caffeine on sleep and cognition. Snel J, Lorist MM. Progress in brain research, 2011, Aug.;190():1875-7855. Can’t quit cold turkey? Try limiting caffeine intake to earlier in the day so it’s out of your system by bedtime.
Night shift workers often have trouble falling asleep when they go to bed, and also have trouble staying awake at work because their natural circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle is disrupted. In the case of jet lag, circadian rhythms become out of sync with the time of day when people fly to a different time zone, creating a mismatch between their internal clock and the actual clock.
Before setting off on this path of personal improvement, you should candidly assess your level of commitment. Are you willing to make some hard choices? Is it a good time in your life to focus on your sleep and set necessary boundaries? Can you see this process through to its end? If your life is in an uproar, now may not be the perfect opportunity to focus on your sleep. But if you're ready and willing to improve your sleep, there is no better time than the present to make some changes.
It actually may be normal to wake up at night. When we find ourselves waking in the night, no matter the cause, we may conclude that something is wrong. If there are no consequences in daytime function, however, this may not be the case. It is normal to wake to roll over, adjust the covers, respond to noise, and maybe even to get up to urinate. (Waking to go to the bathroom is so common as we get older that you would be hard-pressed to call it "abnormal.") Many people get back to sleep easily and are unaffected. The problem begins when our poor sleep compromises our lives. If difficulty falling or staying asleep at night begins to have consequences, there is a motivation to seek the cause.
Did you know that a lack of exposure to sunlight may be interfering with your sleep quality? Light exposure is crucial to our circadian rhythms (aka our internal clocks), which control vital biological processes including sleep. Scientific research reveals that that a lack of light in the workplace results in poorer overall sleep quality, as well as sleep disturbances, which can then have further negative effects on health.
See a Doctor. While lifestyle changes are the first line of treatment for sleeplessness, if you’re still not getting enough rest after improving your bedtime routine and trying a variety of relaxation strategies, a physician may be able to help determine if your sleeplessness is merely a symptom of another health concern, and prescribe appropriate treatment.