After a long day, you’re sure you’ll be asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. Instead, your mind decides it’s time to replay that contentious conversation from today or worry about your finances.
You’ve had several days in a row of interrupted sleep because of your caregiver duties, worries or noisy neighbors, and you’re not sure how you’ll get through the day.
We’ve all been there. According to Cleveland Clinic, some 70 million Americans experience sleep disorders every year, and 33% to 50% of adults experience symptoms of insomnia—trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or waking too early. Caregivers are especially vulnerable to sleep issues because of their responsibilities and stress levels.
Over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids can provide short-term relief, but come with the risks of addiction, the body building up a tolerance and needing higher doses, drug interactions and more.
In the face of these risks, many people turn to melatonin, an increasingly popular hormonal supplement. A Journal of the American Medicine Association study reported that the number of adults taking melatonin doubled from 1998 to 2016 and that adults are increasingly taking more than the recommended 5 milligram per day dosage.
Melatonin is often misunderstood: It’s not an herbal supplement or a vitamin but a hormone produced in the body’s pineal gland. It tells your body that it’s time to sleep, and conditions like darkness can help your body produce it naturally. It’s what regulates the body’s circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle.
The synthetic version of this hormone can help people who have a known melatonin deficiency, those adjusting to sleeping different hours for shift work, or people recovering from jet lag. But possible drug interactions, possible increased dementia risk and more make it a poor long-term solution.
If you’re struggling with insomnia, know you’re not alone. You might want to join a support group, and you should definitely see your doctor. In the meantime, though, here are some nonhormonal, nondrug alternatives to help you get a good night’s sleep.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Especially if you’ve been struggling with sleep for a while, you’ve probably developed some negative thoughts and feelings related to sleep. The aim of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, also known as CBT-I, is to change your attitudes about sleep while also changing behaviors to improve it. Ask your doctor about CBT-I, but you can also check out these online programs:
Meditation, music, books and podcasts
A big part of being able to fall asleep is being able to relax. A good sleep or relaxation meditation, audio book, podcast or music – played aloud or through headphones – can help relax your mind and eventually your body. Sleep modes on devices make it easier than ever to ease into sleep while listening. What’s more, listening promotes imagination, which can help us get into our subconscious minds for sleep. Plus, there’s no blue light to contend with as there would be with watching a screen to wind down. Here are some tools you might consider:
- Ten Percent Happier or Headspace medication applications
- Audible audio books
- Recommended podcasts
- Bluetooth earbuds
Books on sleep
Sometimes it helps to research the problem and get different perspectives. Books aren’t a quick fix, but they can help you see your problem in a different way and give some ideas for getting your body back on track for sleep. Check out these books:
You’ve probably read the recommendations on sleep hygiene: Go to bed and get up at the same time. Make sure your room is dark enough, cool enough, quiet enough and free from clutter and other triggers that keep you awake. Get enough sunlight during the day (especially first thing in the morning). Avoid big meals and alcohol before bed. As you shore up your sleep hygiene, here are some products that might help:
- Weighted blankets – Researchers say these may calm anxiety and help restless sleepers get a better night’s sleep.
- Mack’s Silicone Earplugs – Reducing the noise in your sleep environment might help, especially if you know noise is keeping you up or waking you.
- Cooling mattress – Especially if you’re waking up feeling too warm, you might want to invest in a cooling mattress to help with sleep hygiene.
- Sleep mask – This might help if you’re getting too much light in your sleep area. It’s also good for times when you need a quick nap during the day.
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Remember that not all these suggestions will help everyone because everyone is different. Also, keep in mind that most insomnia problems resolve with a combination of solutions applied over time, so be patient with your body. It’s doing its best for you and just needs to get back on track. Most people struggle with sleep at some point in their lives and eventually get through it—and so will you.