Outside of giving its name to this blog, insomnia can be exceptionally difficult to live with. Insomnia is often referred to as "vague" because it is so difficult to determine what exactly is causing the sleeplessness: underlying medical conditions, chronic pain, depression, or even another sleep disorder like restless leg syndrome. For some, the cause could be as simple as stress.
Regardless of the cause, all insomniacs know that it can be nearly impossible to fall asleep or fall back to sleep. If you have insomnia, you may spend hours lying in bed, tossing and turning, trying desperately to fall asleep. You may even feel that doing so makes you feel even more stressed about not being asleep. A new study suggests that not only is that stress keeping you awake, but being in the bed itself might be contributing to your sleeplessness.
In fact, the researchers found that one of the best things to do is get out of bed. That will help you decrease the amount of stress you feel about not being asleep, and it may help you become more ready to fall asleep. If you are stressed or worried about other things, finding ways to "turn your brain off" before you get into bed may be helpful. The medical staff involved in the study suggested that a consistent sleep routine is more likely than simply lying in bed to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Here are my top five tips to help you create and maintain a successful sleep routine:
- Set aside a "power down" hour before bedtime. Stop work. No chores. Do something relaxing like taking a warm bath, engaging in light reading, or watching TV if that's relaxing for you (avoid the news channels).
- Go to bed and get up at the same time seven days a week -- no matter what!
- Schedule in at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. You can break up these minutes into pockets of 10 minutes if you have to. Here's an idea: Expose yourself to bright, morning natural light (a good thing for calibrating the body's natural clock) with a brisk walk before breakfast, then again at lunch, and after dinner.
- Avoid caffeine after two in the afternoon. Don't forget hidden sources like soda, and some headache medicines.
- Adopt some mind-, body- and sleep-friendly practices like meditation, massage or yoga.
It's best to associate being in bed with being asleep, not with being awake and stressing about not being asleep. A healthy sleep routine can help you do so, and though it seems a little contradictory, so can getting out of bed if you're really struggling to fall asleep.
Michael J. Breus, Ph.D.
The Sleep Doctor™
Everything you do, you do better with a good night's sleep™