I used to suffer from long stretches of restless sleep and borderline insomnia. My issues were pretty common: inability to fall and stay asleep, night sweats, a seemingly instinctual worry about waking up on time and—all the while—a mind that simply would not stop churning even when I was completely exhausted. The easy and restful sleep that I would fall into naturally as a child and adolescent had given way into fitful bouts of transient slumber.
While issues with a person’s ability to regularly get restful sleep are often multifold, consider a few points that a person can address immediately to improve their sleep.
Address The Physical Environment
Quite possibly the easiest and most effective way to correct restless sleep habits is to address the direct physical environment around sleeping.
A quality mattress can go a long way in curing issues with sleep. However, what a person would consider a pleasant mattress to slumber upon is a matter that is purely of taste. Some prefer a rock-solid mattress that provides stiff back support and others like myself greatly prefer a softer mattress that makes sleeping on your side much more comfortable. This is entirely a personal inquiry: a person simply needs to lie on mattress of differing sizes and softness to ascertain what fits best for themselves.
Besides a mattress, pillows, comforters, and blankets also play a significant factor in a person’s ability to enjoy restful sleep. Just like mattresses, pillows come in varying shapes, sizes and thicknesses. One simply needs test out differing pillows to find what fits best for their head and neck.
People sometimes forget that by simply trying out a softer mattress or a stiffer pillow, they can help themselves fall and stay asleep. Personally, I recently purchased a thick, velvet blanket and sleep on it, rather than under it. This is incredibly soft and comfortable and has helped improved my quality of sleep.
Outside of the actual bedding, maintaining a peaceful and quiet bedroom is important. Televisions, computers, and other electronic devices can aggravate a person’s ability to fall and stay asleep. Ideally, a person’s bedroom should be void of those electronic hassles and keep their bedroom as spartan as possible. By dedicating a space that is reserved for primarily for sleeping, it can train the body to feel a certain space is devoted to sleep.
Develop Relaxing Habits Before Sleeping
What goes a bit in hand with the aforementioned advice is developing relaxing habits that one partakes in before bedtime. Personally, I usually play a bit of a video game (not more than an hour) before picking up a fiction book and reading for a spell before bed. I sometimes check sports scores on ESPN or general sporting news to ensure that my mind is free and clear of distracting or mind-consuming thoughts before I retire for the night.
Like I mentioned earlier about not being able to wind your mind down before bed, developing relaxing habits before bed helps ward off anxious or bothersome thoughts before bed. If you read firebrand opinion pieces before bed or watch Stephen King’s Carrie before lying down for sleep, you are not helping yourself enjoy a comfortable night of sleep. Leave that sort of stuff for the waking hours and reserve calming activities like fiction reading or meditation before trying to sleep.
Consider Sleep Aids
Sleeps aids can either be over-the-counter or prescribed by a doctor. The average individual should try various over-the-counter methods first before any prescription medication and any serious questions about medicinal sleep aids should be directed at a medical professional, ideally a doctor. I will only be considering non-prescription aids for sleep.
As far as over-the-counter remedies, there are far too many to consider in this piece. I will consider the few I have experience with: melatonin, chamomile tea, and Benadryl.
Hot beverages at or near the time you plan to draw up the sheets can be an effective method of helping induce slumber. Hot chocolate, a hot drink with a spot of liquor, or simply a warm glass of milk can calm your nerves, relax the body, or give you a pleasant sense of fullness before lying down for sleep.
However, the most relaxing drink to consume before sleep in my experience is chamomile tea. Apparently, there is some dispute as to its actual ability to induce sleep, but I do believe that it helps calm nerves, relax the body and, as such, help somebody fall asleep.
Benadryl is the brand name for a class of antihistamines. While it is primarily used as drug to fight off allergic reactions, Benadryl can also cause drowsiness. This drug is found in NyQuil, TylenolPM and a host of other over the counter drugs that target common colds and occasional sleeplessness.
It should only be used for short term issues with sleep, but it certainly works in causing drowsiness. I have found these drugs to help greatly with falling asleep, but I have only used them when I was sick with some sort of cold or flu.
The over the counter aid I have the most experience with is melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted at higher levels during nighttime hours. It is available over the counter in low doses at 1 mg and doses all the way up to 10 mg. It is quite powerful at the higher doses and most certainly helps induce sleep. It isn’t habit forming and isn’t hard on the liver and kidneys like medicines like Benadryl.
However, I would counsel that melatonin should be used as sparingly as possible. Medicinal sleep aids should necessarily used as little as is and it can become all too easy to get used to popping a 5 mg tablet at night before sleep. Melatonin can aid a person greatly in falling asleep, but it does little to help the body and mind stay asleep and it can get a bit costly if you get used to ingesting a couple 10 mg tablets a night.