Every time I told someone that I had difficulty sleeping or casually used the word “insomnia”, immediately they threw volleys of solutions at me- try counting backward from 100, blink for 30 seconds, exercise before sleeping, take a bath and many more. Well at first, they work. But after a certain period, they stop working. Some people complain of sleeplessness throughout the day while others simply resort to pill-popping. If you have been facing the same, well, you are in good company.
On the basis of our quick survey on insomnia, we found that most people resort to social media when they can’t sleep.
First things first, why can’t you sleep?
Caffeine, cellphone screens, sugary foods, heavy meals close to bedtime, anxiety, noise, stress, irregular sleep schedule, alcohol, and some medical condition are some of the many reasons of your insomnia.
Is medication a complete NO?
Sleep medications include both over-the-counter drugs as well as prescription drugs. It is important to understand that these drugs provide temporary relief and should not be considered a cure for insomnia. They are addictive and cause hangover and anxiety with persistent use. If not used properly, they can actually worsen the case in the long run. Determination of the right sleeping pill is done keeping in mind the cause of insomnia and other health factors. They are best used as a last resort on a very limited basis.
When to see a physician?
If you have exhausted the internet and tried a variety of self-help techniques without success, it is better to seek professional help. A physician will be able to point the exact cause of insomnia and give you referrals to a sleep therapist or psychotherapist (if the insomnia is due to depression or another mental health issue).
CBT for insomnia
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a better treatment choice if the sleep problem is a long-term one or you do not want to depend on medications. Unlike medicines, CBT works on the underlying causes of insomnia rather than providing instant solutions. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is a structured program that helps you identify and replace thoughts and behaviors that cause or worsen sleep problems with habits that promote sound sleep.
The therapist begins by identifying your sleep pattern. For this, you will need to maintain a sleep diary for one or two weeks. Depending on your needs, the therapist may recommend some of these CBT-I techniques:
- Stimulus control therapy. This method helps in controlling sleep arousal as bedtime approaches. The brain is trained to produce sleep hormones as well as avoid factors that prevent your mind from sleeping. Activities might include- setting a consistent bedtime and wake time, waking up irrespective of previous night’s sleep, avoiding naps, leaving the bed when not sleepy, etc.
- Sleep restriction. It is important to sleep for 7-8 hours at night. However, lying in bed when awake leads to poor sleep. This treatment reduces the time you spend in bed, causing partial sleep deprivation, which makes you more tired the next night.
- Sleep hygiene. This method makes sure that both your internal and external environment is conducive to a good night’s sleep. It involves making changes like avoiding smoking or drinking, exercising before sleep, etc. on the internal level and making a comfortable bed in a dark, quiet room on the external level.
- Remaining passively awake. This method involves avoiding all efforts to fall asleep. Letting go of the worry that you can’t sleep helps the body relax and it becomes easier to fall asleep.
- Biofeedback. This method allows you to observe biological signs such as heart rate and muscle tension and shows you how to adjust them. Your sleep specialist may have you take a biofeedback device home to record your daily patterns.
- Relaxation training. An important skill taught in CBT-I is relaxation. It includes various approaches like:
- Progressive muscle relaxation technique
- Breathing exercises
- Meditation techniques
- Guided imagery
Some of these techniques can either be self-taught or learned with the help of a therapist. The most effective treatment would combine several of these methods along with medication.
Rule of thumb! (well, sort of)
|Sleeping in a dark, quiet, cool room||Too many liquids before sleeping (we don’t like waking up at night!)|
|Regular sleep schedule||Caffeine, alcohol, sugary food|
|Turn off all screens an hour before sleeping||Stimulating or stressful activity before bedtime|
|Stick to a light dinner||Napping during the day|
|Get out of the bed when you can’t sleep. Tossing and turning increases anxiety. Go back to bed only when you are sleepy.||Checking the clock at night!|
Seek help immediately when insomnia begins to become a pattern in your life. More often than not, insomnia can be cured by lifestyle changes. So, do not lose sleep over the fact that you can’t sleep!
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