Natural Sleep Help: The 4 Dimensions Of Insomnia

August 30, 2010

It’s important to get 7-9 hours of sleep in order to recharge our bodies. Studies have shown that those who get less than 7 hours of sleep are more likely to die of a heart attack, while those who get more than 9 are more likely to die of unknown causes (while those in-between lived the longest). But in order to get enough quality sleep, help is necessary for many, many people. By looking at the four aspects of sleep–falling asleep, staying asleep, sleeping well, and waking up refreshed–insomnia can be addressed in a natural, holistic way that can immediately improve how we feel during the day.

Falling Asleep

Falling asleep is the hardest part for many people dealing with insomnia. First, you need to address your daily habits:

  • Try and keep a regular schedule so that your body gets used to falling asleep at the same time each night.
    • Have a nightly routine. A warm glass of milk, taking a bath, brushing your teeth, etc., can all be a lead up to going to bed that signals to your body  that it’s time to wind down.
  • Exercise in the morning. Exercise helps your body get tired, but doing it in the evening can wire you with endorphins and interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
  • Don’t sleep in the afternoons. Naps can keep you from being tired at bedtime.

Then, if you’re still having trouble, address your mind:

  • Meditation can help clear your mind so that you can sleep, as well as teach you to control thoughts that come unbidden in the night. Further, there may be health benefits to meditation such as reducing stress and helping cancer patients (and others) deal with pain.
  • Visualization, similar to (and almost a subcategory of) meditation, can help you clear your mind and fall asleep. Picturing and recreating details of a favorite painting or portrait, a flower, or something of your own choosing can help clear out any thoughts spinning in your mind.

Staying Asleep

If insomnia is affecting your ability to stay asleep, try making these changes:

  • Keep your room free of distractions. Not only should it be dark and quiet, but a TV, back-lit clock, and other electronics can create lights and distractions that interfere with proper sleep. (For an alternative, blink free alarm clock, see the suggestions under waking up refreshed).
  • Aromatherapy may help- adding a lavender scent to your bedroom may help you to both fall asleep and sleep more soundly (just be careful about leaving candles unattended).
  • Take care of your gastrointestinal tract–don’t eat foods that may give you heart burn, a stomach ache, or other digestive issues that may interfere with sleep. Drink water throughout the day, rather than concentrating it during the hottest part of the day or with dinner, to minimize getting up to urinate (once a night is fine–more than that and you may have prostate problems).
  • If you wake up naturally but are wide awake and have trouble returning to sleep, see “Falling Asleep”, above.

Getting Quality Sleep

Getting to and staying asleep should result in a better night’s rest, but if you’re still having trouble, try making some changes or additions:

  • Try out different pillows, and make sure you have a mattress that meets your particular support needs.
  • Sleep music, such as white noise, rainforest sounds, etc, may help some. Others may benefit from a sleep mask and ear plugs to ensure dark and quiet.
  • Consider a separate (or bigger) bed if your partner is tossing and turning all night.
  • Take care of anything that might interfere: unresolved emotional issues or relationship problems can cause nightmares, unchecked to-dos may circle your dreams, etc. Making sure that you’ve taken care of all you can in a day improves the outlook before bed.
  • Look for a natural supplement–not one that’s drugging you so you pass into an unnatural (and not truly brain refreshing) sleep, but one that supports nocturnal brain and nervous system functions so that your body can relax and rejuvenate.

Waking Up Refreshed

Do you wake up tired after getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep? If your sleeping well, and sleep quality and duration aren’t a problem, then chances are your alarm (or the dog, or the neighbors) is waking you up from a deep sleep. There are many options to help you wake up naturally, but they all require a little flexibility in the time frame that you have to wake from sleep, and that you plan ahead.

  • If you sleep alone, many phones have apps available for them where you sleep with your phone, and the app will record your movement. After a few nights, your phone can then wake you up when you are sleeping lightly.
  • If you have a sleeping partner, there are wristwatches that perform similarly.
  • Alternatively, you can use a meditation chime, which will begin with a soft chime that increases in volume and intensity until you have been pulled out of a deep sleep (this can still take 15 or so minutes, so test it out and plan ahead).
  • Don’t want to buy something? Experiment with finding how long your sleep rhythms are–start with 90 minutes, which is average for most people. Then make sure that your alarm is set so that the amount of time you will be asleep is divisible by 90 minutes. Adjust as necessary.

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