Falling asleep is one of those things that seems like it should come naturally, but that’s not always the case. The National Institute of Health estimates that roughly 30 percent of people suffer from insomnia. This number increases to nearly 50 percent for elderly individuals. While many people view this as a normal part of the aging process, insomnia can cause irritability, unhealthy habits, and a decrease in one’s quality of life.
Studies have shown that “sleep hygiene” for alleviating problems with insomnia doesn’t always work. Those so-called solutions, which include keeping the bedroom dark and cool, avoiding strenuous exercise before trying to asleep, and staying away from heavy meals close to bedtime, are not always the answer. Sleeping pills can be helpful, but only for a limited time. For most people, any benefit ends beyond two to three months.
What does work, according to sleep experts, is cognitive behavioral therapy. This includes doing the following:
1. Not spending too much time in bed
Ask yourself how many hours of sleep you need. If you don’t intuitively have the answer, don’t worry. It is pretty easy to estimate your sleep needs. During a one- to two-week period, when you have an opportunity to sleep as much as you want, how many hours did you sleep? That will give you your answer.
Once you know your sleep requirements, avoid spending more time than that in bed, which can lead to chronic insomnia. Instead, set an alarm for the ideal number of hours of sleep you need and try to get this much sleep every day.
2. If you can’t fall asleep, stop trying.
If you have spent more than 20 minutes in bed without falling asleep, leave the bedroom and do something that is not too engaging (like reading or watching TV). Only go back to bed once you feel sleepy again. This will keep you from developing an unhealthy association of your bedroom as a place where you don’t sleep.
3. Use your bed only for what it’s meant for.
That means for sleeping, not for watching TV, surfing the internet, reading, or eating. Otherwise, the bed becomes associated with other activities.
4. Avoid ruminating in bed
Going over in your head all the things that stress you out will only prevent you from falling asleep. Try writing a list of the things you worry about on a piece of paper an hour or so before your bedtime. Once you’ve finished making your list, you’ve done your worrying for the day.
If you or a loved one isn’t benefiting from these tips, a full evaluation by a sleep specialist may be needed. Not only can a lack of sleep leave you feeling fatigued but it can also seriously effect your overall health. Refer to your physician for questions regarding your sleep cycle and what improvements you can make. Everyone deserves a good night’s rest, and making these changes can be all the difference you need.
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