My clients often complain that they are unable to sleep and that their GP has suggested tablets for their ‘condition’. This sometimes works but can lead to other issues later down the line. While this can be a very appropriate treatment in a variety of cases, and I am by no means advocating you alter or stop the dosing before speaking to a medical practitioner, the good news is that there is often more than one treatment option for any given symptom.
In fact sleep issues are on the whole easily addressed without the use of medication depending on the cause of the sleep disturbance in the first place. Never stop medication without discussing this with your GP, but do go through this check list to make sure there is not a more easily treatable cause to your insomnia.
Key Areas to Check For Insomnia Causes
Before I inundate you with a checklist of suggestions to aid you in getting a peaceful night’s sleep it is useful to check the obvious but most often forgotten key areas to make sure they are not affecting your sleep.
Check that you are not physically impaired be it by your own body or your sleeping environment. Is the mattress too firm or in most cases too soft? Our mattresses can wear and tear quicker than we realise and it is always good practice to just keep an eye on this. Likewise something as simple as changing new pillows be it to brand new ones or a different style (hollow fibre over feather). One of my clients had an undiagnosed allergy/irritation to feathers and the remedy was as simple as a pillow change. If you think a physical discomfort is causing the lack of sleep, it is well worth a trip to your local chiropractor or osteopath as sometimes just one or two sessions and some coping strategies for posture at work and home can set you on a quick road to recovery.
Is your bedroom noisy, be it from the outside street or appliances in your house infuriatingly ringing which are more noticeable as your home settles for the night? In certain circumstances, the ringing may actually be generated seemingly inside your ear canal (tinnitus) which has many causes one of them being stress. For a masking of any noise be it internal or external, there are a lot of good ‘noise makers’ on the market now. Some replicate babbling brooks and birds chirping others create white noise, whichever one suits you best is worth trying to help you drift back into a peaceful sleep and block out the unwanted noise.
Do you have obsessive thoughts whirling around and around in your head. Like a spin cycle of your last wash load? Often our inner critic goes on overdrive when we just want to sleep. We have been shutting it out all day and it finally believes it has our attention so it takes hold while it can. Self hypnosis can help in these moments but if that is not your thing just take a deep breath and do either some relaxation techniques or meditation before you drift off to sleep.
Are you constantly getting up to urinate, in which case this can be as simple as too much coffee, alcohol or diuretic drinks in your daily life? These can both increase the need to empty your bladder and many involve stimulants such as caffeine. To be thorough it may be worth having a urine test to rule out infection, diabetes or a prostate problem (men only) but more often than not you will find a change in drinking quantities and type can help reduce your need to visit the bathroom and hence sleep disturbances.
Factors Linked to Causing Insomnia
With regards to insomnia, if none of the above factors are in play then firstly remember you are not alone. One in three adults are affected at some time in their life with a sleep disturbance. Although it affects women more than men, perhaps due to stress and coping strategies, insomnia patterns are also seen to increase with age because the quality of sleep decreases as the years go by. You mastered the art of sleep as a baby, it is in your remit to get that skill back.
A list of some of the factors influencing sleep pattern interrupts
- stress (including anxiety about not being able to sleep)
- hormonal disturbances
- side effects of medications
- chronic pain
- extreme temperature fluctuations
- environmental noise or changes
- sleep pattern disruptions
- sleep apnoea
Insomnia Coping Strategies
Some of these factors have a similar remedy even though a different trigger. With this in mind I have grouped together below a collection of coping strategies in bullet point form for easy skimming. These suggestions have worked for other patients and may help you. Perhaps the remedy isn’t immediately obvious as connected to your trigger but do the ones you can and see if it makes a difference. Let go of any feelings of worry or panic and slowly make your way through this checklist to see which ones work for you.
For those of you who prefer a more prescriptive remedy (yes I am referring to you SF types!) please note this list is not exhaustive nor is it meant to be completed in its entirety. Not all of these may be suitable for everyone, but hopefully a few will work together and help you on the road to a peaceful night’s sleep.
- establish a consistent bedtime routine
- make sure you are getting enough exercise but not overdoing it
- take a warm bath at least 2 hours before you go to sleep
- introduce relaxation as part of your regular night-time routine
- keep your feet warm
- keep your room temperature down
- switch off the computer a couple of hours at least before bed
- put lavender oil drops on your pillow
- try to give yourself up to an hour in dim light before sleep
- sleep in total darkness
- experiment with bed times, aim to wake up at the end of your sleep cycle
- invest in Sleeptracker or Zeo to wake you up at the lightest stage of your sleep cycle
- reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol, particularly in the evening
- avoid large meals late in the evening
- stay away from refined and processed foods, especially sugar
- avoid coffee or more accurately caffeine
- experiment with Ginseng tea as a good coffee substitute
- avoid alcohol if you are feeling ready to be really healthy
- increase your water intake
Please consult your GP & nutritionist/health food shop for the next 7
- use natural alternatives such as passion flower or valerian to sleeping medications
- fight fatigue with insomnia herbs
- experiment with magnesium and calcium which improve fatigue
- incorporate Ashwagandh to deal with stress
- add Coenzyme Q10 to aid in cellular energy production
- consider Cordyceps, which can help fight fatigue and boost energy levels
- try Eleuthero or Siberian ginseng to enhance mental activity as well as physical endurance
- go for a relaxing stroll
- practice meditation/relaxation exercises
- learn and use a relaxation technique regularly
- learn the art of Mantram – the practice of repeating over and over in the mind certain syllables, words or phrases that help reduce stress and negative mental states
- get plenty of exercise during the day
- instead of slumping in your chair, get up and go for a brief walk
- increase activity to get your blood flowing
- minimise clutter in your bedroom
- optimise your sleep posture
- try inclined bed therapy
- use “white noise” devices to block out surrounding environmental noise
- don’t obsess about not sleeping
- try short naps, aim for under 30 minutes as a good gauge
- replace some of your light bulbs indoors with full spectrum light bulbs
- spend some time outdoors as often as you can to get exposure to bright, natural light, please be careful with regards to burning if you are prone to such
I hope some of these suggestions are of help and one will work for you.