Insomnia: What to Do When You Can’t Sleep
There are few things worse than spending your nights tossing and turning. Whether it’s anxiety about work, stress about financial woes or just plain insomnia, when you can’t sleep, the repercussions are more serious than just feeling drowsy the next day.
Sleep is one of the most important things you can do to keep your body healthy. In fact, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, a lapse in adequate sleep time — at least seven hours a night — can lead to a decreased attention span, depressed feelings and difficulty processing ideas. (1) Sleep problems can also lead to increased weight gain and increase your chances of getting sick. And there are financial repercussions of insomnia or trouble sleeping as well — as this condition is related to lost productivity, absenteeism, work-related accidents and high health care costs. (2)
Although it seems like so many people struggle with getting restful sleep, insomnia and sleep issues are not normal and they need to be addressed. Not getting enough shut eye? Try my 20 favorite tried-and-true strategies — including some natural sleep aids and sleep habits — to address your sleep disorders. They will help you get a good night’s rest on those nights you can’t sleep. Your body will thank you!
Unable to Sleep? It’s Probably Some Form of Insomnia
Did you know that one in five people have suffered from insomnia at some point in their lives? In fact, one of the most common concerns that I hear from patients is “Dr. Axe, I can’t sleep.” What is insomnia? It’s a sleep disorder that can reduce your quality of life and overall health. Some people with insomnia have trouble falling asleep and others have difficulty staying asleep for multiple hours.
Insomnia has been defined as difficulty sleeping that occurs at least three times per week for at least a month. Although studies show that severe insomnia lasts for a medium of four years. (3) Adults need about seven hours of sleep per night and children need about nine hours. If you, or your loved ones, aren’t getting a full night’s sleep, you may be suffering from insomnia and may benefit from dietary and lifestyle changes. (4)
Types of Insomnia
- Acute insomnia: Acute insomnia is characterized as a brief episode of difficulty sleeping and it usually resolves without the need for treatment. This type of insomnia can be caused by a stressful or traumatic event.
- Chronic insomnia: Chronic insomnia lasts for a longer period of time, as it’s usually defined as sleeping difficulty for at least three nights per week that lasts for three months or longer. There are many different reasons why someone might struggle with ongoing, chronic insomnia (more on these causes below).
People dealing with insomnia will typically develop at least one of these common symptoms:
- taking a very long time to fall asleep
- waking up frequently in middle of the night
- not sleeping soundly
- non-restorative sleep (not feeling refreshed after sleep)
- long periods of wakefulness in middle of the night
- not being able to fall back asleep when you wake up in middle of the night
- waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep
- fatigue and cognitive impairment as a result of too little sleep
- difficulty at work and school, and in personal relationships as a result of too little sleep
What Causes Insomnia
There are a number of conditions and lifestyle choices that can lead to insomnia. According to research published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, there is evidence linking insomnia to hyper-arousal (or increased activation) in cognitive, endocrine, neurological and behavioral domains. This means that there’s no one mechanism that causes insomnia, which is why one treatment plan isn’t effective for everyone. (6)
The most common conditions and lifestyle factors that cause insomnia include: (7)
- stress and anxiety
- pain, such as back pain
- frequent urination/urge to urinate at night
- hot flashes
- restless leg syndrome
- digestive problems
- allergies or respiratory conditions
- working nights or shift work
- alcohol and drug use
- neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease
- certain medications, including antidepressants, psychostimulants, anticonvulsants, decongestants, steroids, and dopamine agonistsInsomnia is more prevalent among women, especially with the onset of menstruation and menopause, and older adults. Other risk factors for insomnia include certain medical disorders, psychiatric disorders, pain conditions, and working the night shifts. (8)
Can’t Sleep? 20 Insomnia Natural Remedies
Look to these 20 natural remedies if you can’t sleep and suffer from insomnia. Many of these remedies have to do with improving your so-called sleep hygiene. In other words, it’s imperative to develop a variety of different practices and good sleep habits, which will help you get a high-quality nighttime sleep as well as a healthy level of daytime alertness.
1. Set the right temperature
2. Set the mood
3. Use essential oils
4. Unwind your mind
5. Skip late night sugar and simple carbs
6. Keep electronics out of bed
7. Maintain a regular sleep schedule
8. Limit caffeine after 12 p.m.
9. Work out in the morning
10. Journal before bed
11.Eat melatonin foods and melatonin-producing foods
12. Add magnesium food or supplements
13. Don’t count sheep
14. Get some sunshine
15. Relax with a detox bath
16. Sip on chamomile tea
17. Meditate with breathing, prayer and thankfulness
18. Use natural sleep supplements
19. Engage in full-body exercise
20. Invest in a good mattress and weighted blankets