Lack of sleep can leave you feeling not only exhausted, but desperate. You start telling yourself that a few hours are better than none at all, but when it comes to your health, a full night of rest is non-negotiable. Research shows that insufficient sleep is linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression and obesity, and a potential worsening of autoimmune diseases.
Keep in mind that drinking caffeine and alcohol can make it more difficult to fall asleep—and may disrupt your sleep cycle once you’ve drifted off—so try cutting back on both if you’re not resting well at night. You may also find it helpful to get in the habit of going to bed at the same time each night, waking up at the same time each morning, moving your clock so you can’t watch it if you wake up in the night, and reserving your bed for sleep and sex—not work or watching television.
Some people may consider prescription medication for help falling asleep. This can be helpful if they find the right medication for them and use it for the right amount of time. Still, medications can cause side effects. Consider trying the alternatives below if you experience occasional insomnia. With practice and patience, you may find that they help you get a good night’s sleep—that’s seven to nine hours a night for most adults. If you suffer from chronic insomnia (sleeplessness that lasts longer than three weeks), you may want to use them along with other treatments recommended by your healthcare provider.
Deep Breathing and Visualization Anxiety or a busy brain (from a hectic day or lying in bed tossing and turning) speeds respiration and revs up your nervous system, which keeps you awake. Deep breathing exercises calm both. Visualization, also known as guided imagery, can induce relaxation by redirecting racing thoughts toward a more soothing mental image.
Self-Hypnosis A certified hypnotherapist can teach you how to relax your body by using suggestions and affirmations to induce a trance-like state that leads to sleep. Search the American Hypnosis Association’s directory to find a therapist near you.
Self-Acupressure Pressing very specific points on the body, including some located on the inner wrist and on the second toe, can help correct energy (qi) blocks that may be inhibiting sleep. Since applying pressure incorrectly may actually make you more alert, consult with a practitioner to learn what’s best for you. You can find one through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Also called Jacobson muscle relaxation, this practice involves flexing and releasing muscles. By learning to identify and control areas of tension, you can deeply relax the body and shift attention away from a stimulated mind. For example, tense your mouth and jaw for 10 seconds, then release. Apply this concept to the rest of your body, beginning at your toes and moving up to your head.
Biofeedback Biofeedback machines measure brain waves, muscle tension, blood pressure and other physiological factors. With the help of a practitioner and a monitor, you can learn to control those responses. Eventually, you’ll be able to use these techniques on your own at home to help counteract insomnia. The Association for Applied Psychotherapy and Biofeedback has a searchable directory of practitioners.