Hands down one of the most prevalent sleep disorders, insomnia affects roughly 30% of adults, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. From time to time, most of us have experienced the feeling of lying awake and feeling tired, but being unable to go to sleep. But if you experience this problem regularly and are feeling the effects of sleep deprivation, it could be insomnia.
Simply put, insomnia is a condition in which you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. It can be chronic, recurring regularly during the week and lasting for many months, or acute, meaning it comes and goes and does not persist for more than a few weeks. And since most healthy adults require at least 7 hours of sleep each night, frequent insomnia can lead to:
There are two different types of insomnia, each classified by what causes them.
According to the Sleep Foundation, the most common causes of insomnia include:
For secondary insomnia that emerges from another medical or mental condition, it’s best to begin by treating the primary cause in order to start sleeping better. In this case, it’s important to work with your doctor to address the root of the problem.
Acute primary insomnia, on the other hand, may be treated from home with one or a combination of proven methods.
Insomnia and anxiety about insomnia can often become a vicious cycle. When you’re lying awake at night trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep, it’s important to stay level-headed. It can be easy to start counting the hours and become hyper-focused on how much sleep you’re losing. So resist the urge to check the time as you try to wind down. Cover up your alarm or wall clock, put your phone or tablet away, and try out some of the following tips on how to fall asleep (when nothing else seems to work).
Kicking insomnia often becomes a mental game. Similar to using reverse psychology, challenging yourself to actually stay awake may trigger your body to soon fall asleep. To properly use this scientifically studied technique, lay in bed with the lights out, keep your eyes open, and focus on how easy it is to stay awake. When you begin to feel sleepy, concentrate on staying awake for just a couple more minutes.
Sometimes trying to sleep in total silence is not the answer. Many music sleep studies have found that calming music may promote sleep by helping your breathing and heart rate sync up to a tune. Choose something that’s slow and rhythmic that won’t evoke any kind of emotional response.
There are two methods that have been proven very effective at inducing sleep quickly. You can try them yourself by following a few simple steps.
4-7-8 breathing method
Of course, don’t be too focused on completing these methods in full. If these work for you like they have for many others, you’ll drift off before you can finish!
It’s common to replay your day or think about the week ahead when you lay your head down at night. If racing thoughts are keeping you up, it can be helpful to write them down. Think of this practice as taking your thoughts out of your mind and putting them on paper where they can be organized and “stored” away. You may want to start a journal where you can recall the day’s events. Or if you can’t sleep because of what’s to come, you may choose to create a to-do list for the next day or week.
If you commonly experience insomnia due to an overactive mind, it can be beneficial to adopt writing as a part of your regular bedtime routine.
Reading a book (a good old fashioned book, not an e-reader) is known to reduce stress, making it the perfect way to wind down for sleep. Focusing on a story is a great distraction from whatever stress you have leftover at the end of the day. Just be sure whatever you pick is not too thrilling or loaded with cliff-hangers. The key is to choose something you can easily put down after a few minutes.
Another proven way to unwind is by thinking of the most calming, serene place you’ve ever been (or make one up, if you like). For example, picture yourself lying on a beach in a hammock between two palm trees. Concentrate on how this scene feels to all five of your senses. The warm breeze, the cascading waves, the sunlight peeking through the treetops—the more detail the better. As you consider all these elements, you should begin to feel less anxious and more relaxed.
Electronics like your phone, computer, and TV emit blue light that inhibits melatonin production, the hormone that tells your brain to sleep. But when you’re lying awake, it can be really easy to automatically start checking emails, shopping, or scrolling social media. Resist this urge by putting away devices before bed, and by keeping your TV out of the bedroom. Better yet, have a few relaxing (or even boring) activities that you can default to instead, like reading a book, doing a crossword, or paying bills.
It’s important not to develop a negative association with your bed or bedroom. Especially if you’re having trouble with sleep multiple nights in a row, the sight of your bed can begin to trigger some anxious feelings. So if the methods above haven’t helped you go back to sleep, or you’ve been trying to fall asleep for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed and leave the room. In the meantime, direct your attention to a quiet activity and come back to bed once you begin to feel drowsy.
For more resources and information on insomnia, we encourage you to read the following:
Frustrated You Can't Sleep? Try Staying Awake Instead by Psychology Today
Insomnia by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine
What Causes Insomnia? by the Sleep Foundation
Music and Sleep by the Sleep Foundation
How to fall asleep fast: Methods to try by Medical News Today
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