Have you been sleeping badly in the past few nights, or worse, not able to sleep a wink on some nights? Don't you dread those sleepless nights? You flop heavily into bed after an awfully exhausted day. But your active mind refuses to rest. You keep rewinding today's events. You're worried about tomorrow's work. You cannot stop new ideas racing through your mind.
You lie there staring at the ceiling in the dark for what seems like a long time, unable to sleep.
Just when you finally drift off to slumberland (or worse, you didn't catch a wink at all), your alarm clock goes off and... it's time to reluctantly drag yourself off the bed. How tiring!
You are not alone. Experiencing hateful sleepless nights now and then is pretty common. But if you suffer from having trouble falling asleep consistently for 3 or more nights in a week, you're in for a severe sleep disorder – insomnia.
Imagine you manage to sack out but you tend to wake up frequently during the night with difficulty falling back to sleep. And you feel tired, listless, irritable and sluggish the next day. That also signifies insomnia.
What cause insomnia?
Insomnia doesn't come uninvited – there must be a cause for it to turn up at your bed step. Scan through the below points and see if any fits your cause.
- Short-period stressful event such as preparing for examinations, slogging on home work from school, rushing out business projects, interviews, or trying to land a dream job etc.
- Consistent mental or emotional conditions such as depression, anxiety, stress, panic attack or hyperactive mind due to worrying unduly about your future, dwelling too much into past experiences and feeling remorseful about what you've done in the past, or constantly in fear of death (particularly for elderly).
- Worrying about having acne on face and skin or massive hair loss.
- Pain or discomfort due to some temporary but severe illnesses or injuries such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), heart burn due to acid reflux, headache, migraine, back pain, elbow pain, and shoulder pain etc.
- Jet lag or working in late shift that in turn disrupts your normal sleep pattern.
- Disturbances in the sleep environment such as noise, light or extreme high or low temperature due to sudden climate change.
- Your child keep coming in and out of your bed throughout the night disrupting your sleep.
- Sleeping in a different environment or bed.
- Poor sleep habits, such as watching TV in bed or going to bed at irregular hours.
- Excessive daily intake of alcohol or stimulants like coffee or cigarettes.
- Hungry stomach right before sleep.
- Lack of regular exercise.
- High-intensity workouts or other hyper-activities 1-2 hours before bedtime.
- Existing medical health problems such as breathing or heart problems, hormonal or digestive disorder, or chronic pain (from migraine or arthritis etc).
- Side effects from certain drugs.
- Sleep apnea.
- or others...
As an adult, you're more prone to insomnia due to increasing workload and responsibilities, which could lead to stress, depression and other unhealthy emotional conditions. But infants and toddlers are generally free from emotional stress. Hence, their sleep cycles are much more stable, predictable and normal.
As you age, your sleep may also get more deprived when your biological clock changes. For example, less melatonin is produced to regulate your body's circadian rhythm (an internal clock which governs sleep).
Which of the above trigger(s) your insomnia or bad sleep nights?
Besides the cause, duration of insomnia also determines whether you belong to the Acute or Chronic group.
Acute means that your insomnia gets initiated by some short-term stressful events or pain due to some temporary injuries, etc. As soon as that event or pain ends, your insomnia stops. Your insomnia symptoms can last for a few days to a few weeks, depending on the duration of event.
However, acute insomnia may develop into chronic insomnia that can plague you for few months to years if the symptoms persist after the event or you didn't deal with your sleep disorder properly... especially when you believe taking drugs can quickly treat your insomnia.
True, sleep medication may bring short-term relief for insomnia, but they'll lose their effectiveness after a few weeks.
Worse, you may get addicted to the drugs. If addiction takes place, you'll experience withdrawal symptoms once you stop the medication. Symptoms include depression, dizziness, memory lapses, nausea, and hallucinations or even aggravating your sleep disorder.
On top of that, sleep drugs may not really get you down to deep sleep.
They merely make you drowsy and "unconscious" and you thought you're getting sufficient quality sleep, but which in fact most of the time, you're not. That's why many insomnia sufferers appear dull and sluggish the following day after a "medicated" sleep.
I'm sure you're no stranger to that "zombie" trance if you were on sleep medication before.
Understanding your sleep cycle
What do I mean by deep sleep?
Have you ever wondered why some people sleep 8 to 10 or even 16 hours a day and they feel groggier and clumsier than ever, while some catch only 5 hours or so but they feel as bouncy and spirited as a monkey for the rest of the day?
Or are you one of those who likes to sleep in during weekends because you feel you haven't got enough wink over the work days although you took an average of 8 hours a day? A friend I know of practically sleeps through Saturdays and Sundays each and every week.
Perhaps 10 hours of sleep a day still appears insufficient for you to catch up on the "lost" sleep you're being deprived of.
How about 12, 16 or even 20 hours of sleep a day?
Sleeping less doesn't mean you sleep for just 1-2 hours at night and you'll get rejuvenated the next day. No. Although quality constitutes the major share in measuring how well you've slept, our body needs minimum hours to properly enter the deep sleep phase and for its healing processes, meaning you should at least sleep for 4-5 hours in order to reap optimal health benefits from sleep.
Biologically, a longer sleep may not do you any good. You know what, some sleepers only need 5 hours per night to keep their energy boosted for the whole day.
What is their secret?
Simple. The secret lies in the quality of sleep, not just quantity.
In other words, you can sleep less (but not less than 5 hours) and feel more energized than when you sleep more.
A good night's sleep can replenish your energy, enhance your memory and concentration power, regulate your mood, strengthen your immune system, sustain your work efficiency and effectiveness, extend your lifespan and help you recover from your illnesses (if any) faster. For overweight people, quality sleep can boost your metabolism to help you lose weight.
If your body doesn't receive ample quality sleep, you'll never get to perform at your best the following day.
Although each individual has somewhat different "inner sleep mechanisms", the mechanisms should work more or less around the typical sleep cycle.
Understand the typical sleep cycle?
Nope? Look. I don't want to get into too much technical details explaining the figure for fear you might fall asleep.
I'll just cover the essential points to help you get some sense on what quality sleep actually means (based on the sleep cycle above) so that you know exactly what you need to do in order to obtain quality sleep. Of course, with the help of natural sleep remedies to effectively cure your insomnia which I'll show you later.
During your sleep, your body will cycle between 2 states: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). You need 3-5 cycles per night to make up a normal sleep.
NREM comprises 3 stages:
- Stage N1 – You feel drowsy, but you can easily wake up once aroused (even slightly) and you'll feel as if you have not slept a wink. You may at times notice the feeling of sudden falling that may result in an immediate muscle contraction in your legs. This stage typically lasts from 5 to 10 minutes.
- Stage N2 – You're in light sleep mode now. Your heart rate slows and your body temperature drops. Your body is now preparing to enter the deep sleep phase (the vital period in the sleep).
- Stage N3 – You're in deep sleep at this stage and it's difficult to wake you up, even when lion dance performs 'live' by your bed, so to speak. But if someone shakes you vigorously to wake you up, you'll feel groggy and disoriented (panic attack may strike you at this instant) as your body is not able to adjust itself immediately.
Previously, stage N3 was split into stages N3 and N4 with stage N4 being more intense than stage N3. But now, both stages are combined into one single stage N3 to describe the entire deep sleep duration. ('N' denotes NREM)
During deep sleep, your body performs its healing process – repairs and regenerates tissue, builds bone and muscle, restores energy and strengthens your immune system. For that reason, people need to dive into this crucial level in order to feel rejuvenated the next morning.
But that's only part of the sleep puzzle.
In REM state, your eyes will move quickly back and forth. That's why it's called rapid eye movement. It is this state that takes you to the dreamland (i.e. you're actively dreaming) and also prepares you for the wakeup. That's why most of us will have a dream right before we wake up.
After about 70-90 minutes of falling asleep, your body then steps into the REM state where your mind begins to process and consolidate memories, regulates emotions and stress.
If you don't get adequate REM sleep, you might become moody and irritable during the day. Depression can get the better of you very easily when something upsets you.
Therefore, REM, though not as vital as stage N3 (deep sleep), still proves essential in regulating your emotions and helps keep them in check.
Sufficient REM sleep might even lift up your spirit.
You'll probably experience 3-5 REM periods per night, with each one lasting longer than the previous. For instance, the first REM may typically last for 10 minutes whereas the final REM can stretch up to 1 hour.
REM occupies a total of about 90-120 minutes (20-25%) of a normal night's sleep. NREM dominates the rest.
That's all about what you need to know about the normal sleep cycle.
If you do catch some winks at times but you don't seem to get up feeling full-powered, then most likely you may have entered an abnormally short duration of stage N3 (deep sleep), or worse, not even getting close to it. That means you could be pacing back and forth stages N1 and N2 (light sleep) and dreaming throughout the entire night. That's probably the reason why you can wake up a few times in the middle of the night upon some slight disturbances.
That also explains why some people still feel lethargic after more than 10 hours of sleep per night – they never get a chance to penetrate the deep sleep stage.
You should at least go through the first 2 deep sleep stages and 3 REM periods before you're guaranteed to get fully charged when awaken. But sadly, insomnia sufferers barely get these "bonuses".
Natural insomnia remedies without medication
Whether you suffer from acute or chronic insomnia, I reckon you don't need a doctor at this point.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not against the idea of seeking help from doctors. It doesn't cure the root of your insomnia if sleep drugs is what you'll get from them.
Pardon me for being harsh but most GPs (general practitioners) are none the wiser.
In fact, some doctors can't even cure their own insomnia for popping their self-prescribed sleep drugs (they have a lot in store though). If you go to them, they'll probably feed you the same type of drugs they're using for treating their insomnia.
Remember I mentioned earlier that the ineffectiveness of sleep medication and the undesirable side effects they bring about. You're paying for something that doesn't work forever. And you're only making those doctors and the drug companies richer while failing to eradicate the root cause of your insomnia.
As mentioned earlier, insomnia stems from several causes. So, to address your sleep disorder, we need to identify what makes you unable to sleep soundly or even lose your sleep totally.
If snoring causes your insomnia, then get a snoring treatment solution for yourself or for your spouse or roommate. If it's headache or migraine that makes you difficult to fall asleep, then relieve it. If panic attack is the cause, stop it. If you lose sleep over massive hair loss and are dying to grow back your hair, then fix it. If it's acne on your face and skin that freaks you out, treat it.
Simple as that. (But make sure to look for only natural remedies without medication because drugs may affect your sleep.)
Once you eliminate the cause of your insomnia, you'll be able to sleep like a baby without sleep medication.
However, if your sleep disorder is triggered by other reasons or unhealthy long-term habits that are preventing you from catching a good night's sleep, then follow these tips which aim to change your behaviors or lifestyle to treat insomnia.
These tips work best for you if your insomnia is not sparked by the side effects from any drugs you're using for special health conditions like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or high blood pressure etc.
- Reserve your bedroom for TWO things only – sleep and sex. In other words, avoid eating, working, computers, TV, video or loud music in the bedroom.
- Take your cell phone away from your bedroom because its radiation can disturb your body cells' activity and upset your normal sleep pattern.
- Is the clock next to your bed a mechanical one that ticks particularly loud in the quiet night? If so, you may want to put it farther away from your bed so you won't hear the attention-grabbing ticking sound by your bedside and induce you to turn around often to check for the time. This may unwittingly raise your anxiety level and could jolly well make you lose sleep totally. Get a digital clock instead and put it a distance away from your bed so you won't feel like checking the time frequently.
- Taking a relaxing warm bath before bedtime can lower your body temperature thereby helps to induce sleep. Soaking your feet in a tub of warm water before bedtime can achieve similar effect. Certain aromatherapy oil can enhance calming effect, provided you like the smell.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, soft drinks or chocolate drink and/or cigarettes after lunch. It can take several or up to 16 hours for the effect of caffeine to wear off depending on your body's response to caffeine (i.e. the more sensitive you are to caffeine, the longer it takes for the caffeine to wear off). I suggest that you limit your caffeinated drinks to morning only. Best, quit them completely if you can.
- Avoid snacking just before bedtime so that your body can fully focus on making you sleep instead of having to partially work on the food you send to your stomach. One way to get around this is to eat a fiber-rich dinner before 8 P.M. Also, keep your stomach's satiety level at 70% only. This should stop your cravings for late night snacking and last you till the following morning.
- If you do really feel very hungry right before going to bed, take a very light snack such as a slice of wholegrain bread or a cup of oatmeal. Then wait at least 30 mins before you go back to bed. A rumbling stomach evoked by true hunger can seriously interrupt your sleep and cause you to toss and turn until you throw in the towel. This normally occurs to those who skip dinner or take a low-cal dinner for fear of gaining weight. Don't sacrifice your sleep quality for weight loss. You'll gain more weight instead when you starve and get a bad night's sleep.
- Avoid eating high-sugar food as a snack before bedtime if you really need to take a bite. Your metabolism gears down towards the night to prepare for sleep, so is your digestive system. So, good amount of sugar entering your stomach during this period may ferment easily due to slow digestive activity. This can in turn, cause intestinal gas in your stomach, resulting in abdominal bloating. Discomfort in your stomach will either create a bad quality sleep coupled with a nightmare or cause sleeplessness totally.
- Sleep inducers such as soy milk, calming herbal tea, whole grain, certain seeds like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, and nuts like walnuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, peanuts, help your brain to relax. I suggest that you add these sleep-inducing foods into your dinner so as to give enough time for your body to prepare for a good night's sleep.
- Improve your diet by reducing meat intake and eating more fruits and vegetables such as berries, cherries, green leafy vegetables, whole grains and muesli. These natural goodies revitalize your body and keep your sleep mechanism function properly with less "glitches".
- Reduce the amount of spices such as garlic, onion or cayenne pepper used in your meals (particularly dinner) as too spicy can create a burning sensation in your stomach and result in poor digestion (sometimes, even acid reflux) which will cause discomfort and disturb your sleep quality.
- Drink enough water for the day. A well-hydrated body allows the body to cool at night and encourages production of more melatonin for a good night's sleep.
- Pee right before you sleep so that you won't have to drag yourself out of that cozy bed in the mid of your sweet dream just to do that small, little business. (I hate that!)
- Sleep when you feel like sleeping. Do not procrastinate because once you miss that period, you'll feel wide awake.
- If you cannot conk out in bed after half an hour, get up and listen to some soothing music, or pick up a book you don't normally like to read such as dictionary or textbook. This type of book can bore you to sleep. Joke book is good too as it makes you relax. But no stimulating or exciting content such as horrors and thrillers. Use warm tungsten reading lamp instead of fluorescent lamp. Avoid watching TV or DVD as the light from these devices are bright and will interfere with your body's biological clock, worsening your sleepless condition. Return to bed as soon as you feel sleepy.
- Regular exercise relieves tension, thereby helping you to sleep more easily. But try not to work out before sleeptime as it may make you even more alert throughout the night. Best time for exercising is morning. Morning exercise jump-starts your day and can help you deal with knotty problems more easily, which in turn free you of worries by the time you reach home from work. But if you can't make it in the morning, make sure you leave a 4-hour gap between exercise and your sleep time.
- Train your body to sleep and wake up at the same time every day regardless of whether it's a work day or rest day. Setting a regular sleep routine helps your body and brain get used to falling asleep naturally at a fixed time each day. The ideal time to hit the hay is between 9 and 11 P.M. if you want to get quality sleep.
- If you need to snooze during the day, try to keep it within 20 minutes that is sufficient to charge you up. If you nap longer than that, you may enter the deep sleep stage which upon wakeup, can result in dizzy mind and adversely affect your productivity as well as your nocturnal sleep. So, keep within the recommended time frame for siesta. (Note: A temporary deterioration in your performance due to grogginess may ensue following a mid-afternoon nap of 20 minutes. However, your mood, energy, and subjective alertness will improve beyond baseline once sleep inertia dissipates in 5-20 minutes.)
- If you're working at home, stop work at least two hours before turning in to allow your mind to unwind and relax.
- Stop worrying about your unfinished work and what's gonna happen tomorrow. Tomorrow will have enough worries of its own. So, empty your mind and... relax.
- If you fear you might forget the list of work you need to carry out the following morning, jot down the list on a notebook or pad and then go to sleep.
- Keep your feet warm by wearing socks in bed. This can help improve your sleep quality especially in cold weather.
- Create a clean and comfy environment for slumbering – soft lighting, good ventilation, appropriate room temperature, good support pillows, and sufficient comforters. What's the color of the walls in your bedroom? You may need to re-paint the walls to softer color to enhance a sleepy ambience.
- Your mattress does have a bearing on your sleep quality too. So, you might want to consider changing your metal coil mattress to foam mattress because metal coil mattress can create pressure points and provide uneven support for your body. When you can't seem to find a comfortable position, you won't be able to sleep well. And waking up with an aching back is no surprise. To get better support for your body, use therapeutic memory foam mattress. You'll save a lot on your medical fees in the long run.
The length of insomnia and the number of times it occurs determines the gravity of your insomniac condition. In other words, the longer and more frequent you suffer poor or no sleep, the more severe your condition is.
Usually, your mild insomnia (where you become sleepless occasionally) will improve after applying some of the above sleep-inducing tips.
If your insomnia is so serious that it consistently occurs 3 or more times per week for several weeks or months or even years, you would need to make more significant changes to your habits and lifestyle by literally applying all of the above sleep-inducing tips, which means it'll take you as long as few months to improve your sleep quality.
But if you can't wait to cure your insomnia and you want to nip it in the bud in matter of days totally without medication, then this natural insomnia program is what I would recommend to you, strongly.