Nearly three in ten Americans report having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, which negatively impacts their daily lives. More than half of them (64%) use sleeping pills to get a full night’s sleep.
Stress, overstimulation, chronic health conditions, use of certain medications, irregular sleep patterns, and poor sleep environments are some of the most common causes of insomnia.
If left unchecked, chronic insomnia can lead to a number of long-term health problems, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, and mood disorders.
“The two most important steps to falling asleep are relaxing the body and quieting a busy mind,” says Chris Salter of Forest Healthcare. To help you achieve just that, try these seven quick tips for uninterrupted sleep:
- Create a bedtime routine. Just as you should establish a morning routine, you should also have one to unwind in the evening. “Your body craves routine and wants to know what’s coming next. By creating a bedtime ritual, you can make a clear connection between certain activities and sleep,” says Salter. For example, reading, meditating, or stretching before bed helps your body associate these stress-relieving activities with sleep time. “The goal is to relax your body and mind and prepare you for sleep,” says Salter. Consider blocking out 30 minutes a day for your bedtime ritual, he suggests.
- Try mental exercises. When you’re stressed or anxious, it can be difficult to distract yourself enough to fall asleep. A mental exercise can help your brain distract itself from those overwhelming thoughts and worries. “It can be as simple as ‘name any animal that begins with the letter B,'” suggests Slater. Here are a few other simple mental exercises to try if you’re having trouble catching zzz’s.
- Practice progressive muscle relaxation. Another effective technique for reducing anxiety and racing thoughts is progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). It’s all about slowly tensing and then relaxing your muscles, one muscle group at a time — followed by deep breathing, Salter explains. The method helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which regulates your body’s relaxation response.
- Write it down. Spend five to ten minutes every night writing down what’s going through your mind and what you’re doing about it. “Any thought done that day can be ticked off. That creates relief and calm,” says Salter. Alternatively, you can make a list of all the tasks you want to get done the next day. According to a 2018 study, people who take five minutes to write down tasks they plan to do the next day nod off significantly faster than those who write down tasks they completed earlier in the day.
- Make your bedroom a screen-free zone. “All the screens in your bedroom are a huge distraction,” says Salter. The blue light emitted from your phone, tablet, and other screens can disrupt your sleep by signaling your body to stop making melatonin (the hormone that controls when you feel sleepy), Salter explains .
- Drink warm milk. Milk contains an amino acid called tryptophan – which is crucial for the production of serotonin, also known as the “feel good” hormone, which is also a chemical precursor to melatonin. Additionally, milk is rich in calcium and magnesium, which help you sleep soundly throughout the night, Salter notes.
- Take a mental vacation. Imagine a place you find most relaxing – it could be on a tropical beach or in your family home by the fireplace. “Visualize yourself in this peaceful setting. See and feel everything that will be around you,” suggests Salter. This gets your mind focused on your happy place, making it easy for you to relax and fall asleep, he explains.
If, despite trying everything, you still have trouble sleeping, please talk to your family doctor at the earliest.