You went to bed ages ago and somehow…you’re still awake. For a while, you tossed and turned because your brain was doing that thing where it just whirls along at a million miles per hour about the stuff that stresses you out (from now to back in the fourth grade, it doesn’t discriminate). Now, though, it’s because…well, you don’t know why. You’re just awake. You’re incredibly tired, but you can’t sleep. Hello insomnia, nobody’s old friend.
For many people, insomnia is an annoyance that pops up from time to time when they have something huge stressing them out, like a big presentation at work, expecting a new baby, etc. For others, however, insomnia just shows up and hangs out, wreaking havoc on that person’s life. The longer this insomnia goes untreated, the more havoc is wrought.
Prescription Sleep Aids
For many chronic insomniacs, sleep aids like Ambien and Xanax can be a godsend. Ambien is a strong sedative that is often prescribed to insomniacs and people with anxiety disorders. It is meant to be taken for only a week or two, to help the patient “level out” their sleep schedule and re-train their brains to fall asleep at night.
Unfortunately, there is a risk of dependence on this and other prescription-strength sleep aids. This is why these super-strength sedatives should only be taken under a doctor’s supervision and consent. Prescription drug abuse now rivals illegal street drug use in many states, including Arizona (1).
Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids
This is where most people who can’t sleep turn first. Over-the-counter sleep aids like AdvilPM, ZZZQuil, etc. can be very helpful in falling asleep at night when you find yourself tossing and turning or haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep in a while. Like the prescription-strength sedatives, however, these over-the-counter aids have the same risk of dependency. This is why they have strong warnings on their labels advising against taking the drug for more than a few days in a row.
This same rule holds true for “natural” over-the-counter sleep aids. A lot of people who have sleep issues will eschew the OTC and even the prescription-strength sleeping pills in favor of a “natural” alternative like a melatonin supplement. It is important to understand that even these “natural” concentrated sleeping aids can cause harm if not taken as directed.
Basically, if you still can’t sleep after a couple of days on these sleeping pills, you should definitely seek help from a medical professional (2).
Natural Methods of Inducing Sleep
It is important, if you are having trouble sleeping, that you not automatically discount natural methods of inducing sleepiness. While many seem like old wives’ tales, most have been scientifically proven to be quite helpful. Here are a few of the most successful:
Stick to a routine. You can, over time, train your brain to feel sleepy. Go to bed at the same time every night. Start your “getting ready for bed” routine at the same time and follow the steps in the same order every night. Eventually, your brain will naturally start to feel sleepy at the right time without your having to consciously think about going to bed.
Avoid caffeine and other stimulants. Even if you’re sure that caffeine doesn’t affect you, it’s still a good idea to stop consuming it, at the latest, around dinner time (early afternoon is better). This suggestion is also applicable to sugary beverages and snacks.
Avoid alcohol. Many believe that a glass of wine or a few beers help them get to sleep each night. The truth is that alcohol is a stimulant (3).
Confront Your Stress
Finally, it is important to understand that insomnia is often more psychological than physical in origin, though it can be caused by a hormonal imbalance (4). That churning that keeps you awake when you first try to fall asleep is the result of your brain trying to work through something now that you have stopped trying to distract it with other activities. Talk to a counselor about your sleep issues and the stress you feel during your daily life. You’d be surprised by healthfully working through your problems can help you get a better night’s sleep (5)!
Nobody enjoys insomnia. Thankfully there are plenty of options to help you conquer it. Hopefully, the tips we’ve shared here will help you sleep better!
Please consult your Doctor or a medical professional before taking any medication