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.
Some people struggling with this issue may turn to prescription medication for help falling and staying asleep. This can be helpful if they, with the help of their physician, find the right one for them and use it for the right amount of time. Still, drugs can cause side effects that are important to consider.
Other solutions can go a long way in helping you get the rest you need—that’s seven to nine hours a night for most adults—and are worth exploring first. Creating a soothing bedtime ritual and being mindful of how much caffeine and alcohol you consume (and when) are two important ones. For many people, making simple changes in these regards can be quite impactful on the quantity and quality of sleep they get.
Some lesser-known strategies—when employed with practice and patience—can further help if you experience occasional insomnia. If you suffer from chronic insomnia (sleeplessness at least three nights a week for at least three months, despite an opportunity to sleep), 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. If your mind drifts during your practice, which is very common, simply recenter yourself and start again.
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, curl up your toes into the soles of your feet, squeeze for 10 seconds and then slowly relax them. Continue applying this concept to the rest of your body, moving all the way 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.