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What To Do When You Just Can’t Fall Asleep

By: tasha

  So it’s 4am and you’re lying awake, staring at the ceiling. You know you have to get up and go to work in three hours. If only you could just fall asleep, just for a few hours, you’d be okay.

But you can’t sleep. You roll over. You kick all the blankets off the bed. You get up and put them back on. A few minutes later you get up to use the restroom. On the way back to bed you adjust the blinds, get a glass of water, and get back under the covers. You stare at the ceiling and notice a small fly buzzing against the window, but you’re too exhausted to get up and let it out. You glance at the clock. It’s now 4:10am and you’re wide awake. The battle continues.

If this sounds familiar, then you could be one of the 64 million Americans who suffer from occasional or chronic insomnia, a condition characterized by the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Everyone suffers from occasional bouts of insomnia, which can be brought on by stress, overwork, or lifestyle changes, but if your insomnia has lasted longer than a couple of weeks then it’s time to seek help.

Only a qualified medical opinion can pinpoint the exact cause of your sleeplessness. But if your trouble stems from the long-term inability to fall or stay asleep, it is recommended that you try a number of non-prescription techniques before you head to the doctor’s…


Things you will need:
  • Your bed
  • Earplugs
  • Sleep mask
  • Glass of milk and a cookie
  • Thick socks
  • A notepad and pen
  • A hot bath

First of all, take a good, long look at the place where you sleep. Is your bed comfortable, your room dark enough, your windows sound-proofed? Your bed is often the culprit. If your mattress is over 10 years old it might be time to change it.



What about your pillows – does your head relax naturally onto them at night, or do you find yourself constantly throwing pillows off the bed or folding then in two in an attempt to get the proper support? The latest in pillow design is Memory Foam which, while pricey, allows the pillow to contour to your exact head shape and give you much-needed relaxation.



If you cannot afford a whole new mattress, try getting a mattress-topper – a roll of semi-rigid foam which provides a stabilized surface for you to sleep on. Again, Memory Foam is the best at supporting your bodyweight and allowing your muscles to relax.



Next, look at your room when it’s dark. Is there light gaping in through the windows? Is your alarm-clock’s glow so bright it looks like a 747 plane is taxiing in to land on your headboard? You’ll have your absolute best chance of sleeping if it is totally dark in your room, so fix those gaps, cover your alarm and buy thicker curtains, or wear an eye-mask to bed.



If there is road-noise coming in from outside, get double glazing or invest in some ear-plugs.



Okay, so your bed’s brand new and your room’s pitch black, but you still can’t sleep. What next? This is a funny one, but when you lie down to sleep, are your eyes completely closed? When it’s dark in the room you may not realize it but you may be lying there with your eyes slightly cracked open. Lightly touch your eyelids with your fingertips and push them closed. If your eyes are not fully closed sleep cannot take place.



Still no luck, huh? Okay, let’s get up again and take a look at your day-to-day routine, see if we can find the cause of what’s keeping you up. It goes without saying that a whole plethora of things can interfere with your sleep cycle, everything from illness and stress to death, divorce, bereavement and even just the day-to-day trials and tribulations of living. Keep a diary to establish whether you have any unfulfilled inner needs or an outer crisis that need working out.



After ruling out all medical causes, the first thing to look at is your use of caffeine. Over 90% of Americans indulge in some form of caffeine every day, whether it be from coffee, tea, sodas, chocolate and so on. Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant drug, discovered by a German scientist in 1819. It stimulates the central nervous system, fending off drowsiness and making you more alert. However, its effects vary from person to person depending on age, metabolism etc, so try reducing or limiting your intake. Like alcohol, caffeine takes a long time to be processed by your system. A single cup of coffee will linger in the bloodstream and brain for 3-4 hours after consumption, so try cutting yourself off at 6pm every day. This alone may cure your insomnia.



If caffeine is the most sleep-disrupting drink, milk may be the best sleep promoting drink. Your mother was on the right track when she used to give you a glass of warm milk and a cookie before bedtime. Milk, both warm and cold, contains the enzyme tryptophan, which helps lull you to sleep, and the cookie contains carbohydrate. The insulin released by eating the carbohydrate then makes it easier for the trytophan to enter your brain, lulling you to sleep.

Here are some more things you can do to increase the likelihood of falling asleep:



Take a warm bath before hitting the hay. The brain’s cardian rhythms naturally slow down when approaching the sleep phase, leading to a slight drop in body temperature. By artificially mimicking this by taking a hot bath and then letting your body cool, you make your brain think it’s time to sleep.



Wear thick socks to bed. The feet are the coolest part of the body, but if your feet poke out from beneath the blankets and get cold at night they’ll wake you up. Similarly, cold feet will keep you from falling asleep.



Try to be in bed before 11pm. Our bodily systems, particularly the liver and the adrenals, do the majority of their recharging and repairing during the hours of 11pm-1am. Being actually asleep during this phase will let your body reap the maximum restorative benefits from these repairs.



Don’t drink before bed. Even a glass of water may get you up in the night to use the restroom. Keep water beside your bed to sip if your mouth is dry, but try to avoid drinking large quantities of fluid 2 hours before bedtime. Go to the toilet last thing before you go to sleep to avoid nighttime awakenings.



Don’t exercise before bed. Exercise stimulates your body’s blood flow and metabolism, keeping you awake. Work out in the mornings rather than last thing at night and you’ll sleep better.



Don’t work right before going to bed. It may sound obvious, but unless your entire career hangs on finishing that report before tomorrow morning, try not to do anything work related at least an hour before bedtime.



Keep a notepad and pen beside your bed. If you find yourself lying there going over and over all the things you have to do tomorrow, switch on the light and write everything that is in your head down onto the paper. This will clear your mind and stop you stressing that you might forget something vital in the morning.



If you’ve tried all of the above and you’re still woefully sleep free, try something that sounds counterintuitive: get your blanket and pillow and go sleep on the sofa, or in a different bed in your house. Studies have shown that if you associate your room and bed with not sleeping, your brain will happily oblige and ‘learn’ that it can’t sleep in your room. Breaking this vicious cycle may lead to the discovery that you can fall asleep in ten minutes if you sleep on the couch.



Here’s one for the adventurous: try sleeping on the floor. This is a good test to see if you need a new mattress. Unless you are very thin or have bad joints, sleeping on the floor, especially on your back, is actually surprisingly comfortable as it lets your head and spine all lie straight on the same, firm level. Give it a whirl for a day, and make sure you lie on a thick blanket rather than on the bare carpet.



Wear PJs or sweatpants to bed. Sometimes you may wake up and fall asleep constantly all night long without realizing it because your body is too cold.



Cover your alarm clock and put it out of arm’s reach. Stress is the #1 cause of insomnia, and constantly checking the clock to see how many hours you’ve been lying in bed unable to sleep is extremely stressful… leading to loss of sleep.



imgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Natasha Rhodes is the author of a disturbing number of movie novelizations and original books about vampires and werewolves, including the smash-hit movie blockbuster ‘Blade: Trinity,’ ‘Final Destination: The Movie’ 1 and 2, and ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street: Perchance To Dream.’

You can read more of her ramblings, stories, articles and books at www.natasharhodes.com.




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