Difficulty getting to sleep, waking during the night or waking too early are the tell-tale signs of insomnia. While everyone can experience brief periods of disturbed sleep, on-going insomnia is a common problem which is linked to depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse. Poor sleep also leads to lethargy, poor concentration and poor memory. It is not always possible to determine exactly why a poor sleep pattern has developed, but there are many things that can help to re-establish normal sleep. The following 10 tips adapted from Sleep Disorders Australia Fact Sheet (1) is the best place to start and can make a real difference.
- Cut out caffeine in the afternoon/evening. Caffeine is a stimulant and can take up to 8 hours to wear off.
- Don’t use cigarettes before bed. Nicotine is also a stimulant and should be avoided if you wake in the night.
- Don’t use alcohol as a sleep aid – it might help to get to sleep but then disturbs sleep.
- Develop a relaxing sleep ritual before bedtime.
- Exercise regularly, but not in the evening.
- Keep the bedroom quiet, dark and comfortable.
- Don’t go to bed overfull or hungry.
- Avoid napping in the day, and go to bed at the same time each night.
- Don’t sleep with pets or children in the bed – their movements can disturb an otherwise peaceful sleep.
- Avoid watching TV, eating and discussing emotional issues in bed.
These ten steps are invaluable to restore a normal sleep cycle. When more help is needed it is reassuring that there are a number of treatments that can improve sleep. Acupuncture has been found to be effective for insomnia in several studies, and appears to impact a number of neurotransmitters to restore sleep (2). Chinese herbal medicine has been used for thousands of years for insomnia, and studies indicate it may as effective as medication in some cases (3-4). Prescribed pharmacy sleep medication has a role for very short term use. Concentrated milk drinks like “Horlicks” contain the sleep promoting substance tryptophan. Some common herbal medicines and the minerals calcium and magnesium when taken at night can have a relaxing effect that aids sleep. Any steps which improve the quality and quantity of sleep improve physical and mental wellbeing. These simple strategies can be the building blocks to a more vital life.
(1) Sleep Disorder Australia. Fact Sheet: Insomnia. https://www.sleepoz.org.au/application/files/6814/8446/9666/AT04-Insomnia.pdf. last accessed 24/2/18
(2) Kaicun Zhao, Chapter Eleven – Acupuncture for the Treatment of Insomnia,Editor(s): Bai-Yun Zeng, Kaicun Zhao, Fan-Rong Liang, International Review of Neurobiology, Academic Press, Volume 111, 2013, Pages 217-234, ISSN 0074-7742,
ISBN 9780124115453, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-411545-3.00011-0.
(3) Yeung WF, Chung KF, Poon MM, Ho FY, Zhang SP, Zhang ZJ, et al. Chinese herbal medicine for insomnia: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Sleep Med Rev. 2012 Dec;16(6):497-507
(4) Zhou Qi-Hui, Zhou Xiao-Li, Xu Meng-Bei, Jin Ting-Yu, Rong Pei-Qing, Zheng Guo-Qing, Lin Yan. Suanzaoren Formulae for Insomnia: Updated Clinical Evidence and Possible Mechanisms.Frontiers in Pharmacology. 9, 2018. DOI=10.3389/fphar.2018.00076