Advice, Tips And Things To Help You Sleep Better
How often have you stared at the back of your eyelids at 3:00am, feeling like the only person for miles who’s awake? How many times have you puzzled in the darkness over how to make yourself fall asleep?
If this sounds familiar, then it could be that you need to ask yourself a different question; how can I switch off my brain, my thoughts and my mind?
At least a third of the planet will experience some kind of sleeping problems in their lives. It’s estimated that over 60 million Americans and 20 million Brits are plagued by insomnia each year for example.
And of those, well over 50% will feel that they are being kept up by thoughts and worries which refuse to fade into the twilight.
Please don’t tell me to drink Chamomile tea…
No Sleepless Nights is full of advice, techniques and things to help you sleep. And our intention is to look beyond the standard tips that we know chronic insomniacs grow to hate.
A cup of chamomile tea and some daily exercise is the best cure for insomnia? If that really were the case then there would be a chamomile shop next to every coffee shop in town…
In fact in 2012, a review of research done into natural remedies like Chamomile concluded there was a lack of evidence that they really help.
Why is that you can’t fall asleep easily?
Insomnia is a tricky beast to pin down. The problem is that it’s not like most other health problems. If your arm is swollen, then you can take an x-ray, see it’s broken and put a cast on it. Simple.
But sleeplessness can be caused by so many different things, working out how to cure insomnia often means doing some detective work.
Over the last few months we conducted a poll, asking 2000 people what they felt were the reasons they couldn’t sleep. You can see the results in the infographic below. (Note that nobody replied ‘run out of Chamomile…’)
Insomnia the Chameleon…
So you can see that 58% of people feel it is their over-active mind keeping them up. And a further 24% feel it is worry or stress.
When asked for specifics, 24% of people said it is random thoughts and 38% a mixture of all kinds of thoughts buzzing around their heads.
We should remember though that insomnia is the chameleon of sleep disorders. Sometimes we might think it is caused by one thing, when actually there is something we don’t realise at the heart of our sleeplessness.
Which came first – the chicken or the egg?
There is another problem with taking the results of our poll too literally; there are two different ways of looking at the results:
- Are lots of people being kept awake because they can’t stop thinking?
- Or are they thinking because they’re awake and can’t get to sleep?
This is the chicken or the egg conundrum which illustrates one reason curing insomnia is not so easy.
If you believe that your worries are keeping you awake, then you might not look beyond that idea.
In which case you may miss the real reason why you’re getting to know the back of your eyelids so well…
Are sleeping pills the only answer?
Of all the things to help you sleep, the most well known is of course sleeping pills. But just because something is well known, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s good for everyone.
In fact sleeping pills are in many cases one of the worst answers to the bane of sleeping problems. So how can that be? Surely it’s like saying that plasters are the worst solution to a bleeding cut?
The problem is, sleeping pills are almost never recommended by medical professionals as an on-going solution to sleepless nights. This is because they bring with them all kinds of extra possible problems. So they are normally only prescribed for short periods.
Despite that though, many people diagnose themselves with insomnia and then take sleeping pills for far longer than they perhaps should.
In this way they may miss the real reason they can’t sleep well at night. And so even though a simple answer might be waiting to be discovered, it lies gathering dust because nobody is looking for it.
How to fall asleep quickly through a process of elimination…
So far we’ve been talking about some problems that can occur when searching for ways to fall asleep.
So with this potential mine-field of misleading clues, what should you do if you can’t fall asleep easily at night?
With so many possible explanations for the sleeplessness, it may be easier to reverse the problem.
Eliminate some of the most common explanations, and so reduce the number of options you need to think about.
And at the same time take a practical approach. Up until now you may have settled with ‘I just can’t sleep’ and relied on aids like sleeping pills (or Chamomile…).
So now you could try to spend some time with the thought ‘I can’t sleep, but I’m going to work out why and do something about it’.
1. Everyone needs a little help now and again
Even though our poll suggests that just 1% of people feel a medical condition keeps them awake, we would bet the actual percentage is higher.
For example, many mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety are linked with insomnia.
And some medications for health conditions, both physical and mental, can affect people’s ability to fall asleep.
That’s why it’s a good idea to have a chat with a medical professional if you’re having trouble sleeping.
Think of them like the Sherlock Holmes of your health; they may discover or realise that something unexpected is keeping you awake.
And if you’re lucky, addressing that hidden something may clear up your sleeping problems.
2. Maybe it’s a different sleep disorder
A doctor can also make sure it’s not another sleep disorder causing you problems at night.
Did you know that there are over 80 different sleep disorders? And each of these sleep disorders leads to a different kind of treatment.
Whether you have an ‘official’ sleep disorder or are just experiencing a temporary spell of sleeplessness, a doctor will be able to talk you through treatment options.
They can also give you general advice about things to help you fall asleep.
3. The choices you make in life
Working out how to fall asleep quickly sometimes involves making some lifestyle changes and waiting to see if they pay off.
This is where the bizarre phrase ‘sleep hygiene’ plays an important role. Despite the off-putting name, sleep hygiene is sometimes one of the best insomnia cures.
Sleep hygiene is where you often find that repetitive ‘have a relaxing cup of Chamomile’ kind of advice.
But it’s also where you can find valuable practical advice. For example avoiding spicy, sugary and heavy food for dinner. Or keeping both your room and body temperature cool at night.
Chronic insomniacs often complain that sleep hygiene isn’t enough help for them. And sometimes it’s not, though it certainly can’t hurt to look into it in more detail.
Sleep hygiene doesn’t get the recognition it should
For most people who have difficulty sleeping only from time to time, sleep hygiene could be the magic wand of cures for insomnia. There are just two issues that need to be addressed:
- There are literally millions of websites, blogs and news articles that discuss sleep hygiene. But many of them list just a few basic pieces of advice, and sometimes even incorrect ideas. The amount of times we’ve seen ‘take a hot bath before bed’, when actually this is a terrible idea.
- Sleep hygiene takes effort and a willingness to change on your part. Some of the habits which might be keeping you awake unfortunately happen to be some of the best things in life. Chocolate ice-cream on the couch in front of a film at night? A couple of glasses of wine? A lazy day playing computer games? Not easy things to cut out, we know.
Our unusually large resource of ways to get to sleep
Because of these two issues, we have put together a comprehensive resource of sleep hygiene techniques.
We did this because just listing the top 10 sleep hygiene techniques is unlikely to make you go away and make major changes.
If you read this list of things that can help you sleep below, would you feel inspired to start doing them all?
- Go to bed at the same time every day
- Don’t drink caffeine late in the day
- Do some exercise
- Get some fresh air and daylight
- Don’t watch television in bed
- Get up if you can’t fall asleep straight away
- Try relaxation techniques
- Don’t eat a heavy meal before bed
- Create a bedtime routine
- Have a cup of ‘you know which’ herbal remedy
The when, why and how of self-help cures for insomnia
Instead we decided to split sleep hygiene into various sections and explain why and how each sleep hygiene technique works.
So for example in our section on creating a bedtime routine, we explain how much time to dedicate to it. And why it is important to separate day and night like this.
We give suggestions of good things to do in your routine, and explain how you can tie it in with other techniques such as the relaxation exercises.
We understand that time is precious. And it will definitely take some time to go through the various sub-sections of sleep tips we’ve created.
But the advice is free and it’s not going away. So you can always bookmark us and come back again.
Why should you bother?
Like we said earlier, finding personal cures for insomnia is often a process of elimination. And there is much to eliminate when it comes to the choices you make.
You may not be aware that it’s a simple thing keeping you awake. Perhaps you’ve always thought that alcohol helps you sleep for example. Well yes, it helps you fall asleep initially, but ruins the overall quality of sleep.
Maybe you didn’t realise that having a long lie-in on Saturday and Sunday can disrupt your body clock during the week.
The point is, by trying out our ideas of things to help you sleep, you are refining your chances of succeeding in beating the insomnia monster.
4. How to make yourself fall asleep by switching off your mind
This is where things can get a little tricky. As we said before, it’s hard to know whether you are thinking too much because you are being kept awake, and so the mind is naturally active.
Or whether you are overwhelmed by a nightly tidal wave of thoughts, worries and problems. And you can’t seem to find the off button on your mental remote control.
Whichever case, there are ways you can learn how to fall asleep quickly by derailing the juggernaut thought train:
- Only go to bed when you are actually sleepy. It’s a common mistake to go to bed and spend hours forcing yourself to fall asleep
- Take sleeping pills. Not our favorite method, but they can help under the guidance of a doctor
- Follow all the sleep hygiene advice under the sun (and moon). The idea of this is that it then prepares your mind to associate bedtime with falling asleep quickly
- Try relaxation exercises just before, or even while in bed
- Accept the fact that you have a problem with anxiety, worry or stress and take constructive action to reduce it
In the above list, one of the most practical ways to fall asleep is to do some relaxation exercises.
You may be put off words like ‘meditation’, ‘deep breathing’ or ‘visualization’ because they sound too airy-fairy.
If that’s the case it’s time to wake up to the 21st century and accept that these techniques are no longer only for the long-haired.
The beauty of these kind of exercises is that they can help you fall asleep quicker in two ways:
- They work in a practical way to help your body and mind relax and calm down
- They need just enough attention that they distract you from your annoying thoughts
You can find detailed instructions on how to do the following 3 exercises in our relaxation exercises for sleep section.
- Deep breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Meditation and guided visualization
Tackling your stress and worries in the long-term
The exercises above are great as an emergency tactic when you can’t sleep. But if you are being kept awake night after night by never-ending worries then you may need to address this in a more long-term way.
There are various ways you can deal with this issue. Here are a few ideas for you:
- Consider seeking professional advice. If your mind is creaking at the seams with stress or anxiety, you may benefit from some form of counseling or therapy
- Look into self-help pathways. You could just walk into the nearest bookshop, find the section on relaxation and see what jumps out at you. Or if you are not a paper and ink person, searching online will unearth a wealth of guidance
- If you know what is causing you so much stress or anxiety, and you also know how to deal with it in a positive way, then do so
- Try Mindfulness, which we also discuss in the relaxation section. This is a form of meditation that goes beyond the lotus position and helps you live in a more peaceful and calm manner
- Dedicate more time to doing things that you know you love and help you relax. Simply dedicate more time to yourself
The point to take away is that although there are many tips, techniques and things to help you sleep, sometimes the problem is beyond ‘tricks’.
If this is the case, you need to take control of working out for yourself how to fall asleep more easily.
If your eyes are tired from reading this entire page, then that’s a good thing. We don’t mean that in a sadistic way. Nor that it was written to bore you to sleep. Though that would also be a good thing!
Just that you will now hopefully realise that although it is possible to find a cure for insomnia, it may take some effort.
So stay positive and try to find the motivation to really look deeply into what is keeping you awake. It is possible to learn how to fall asleep fast, and improve your overall quality of sleep.
By reading this page the ball is now in motion. You just have to make sure it keeps rolling with the constructive action you next take.
Next: read our article explaining how to stop worrying that you won’t fall asleep quickly.