I know that I’m singing the same tune here, and reinforcing the same idea. The theme of which is that the only real way to control or eliminate your sleeplessness and insomnia is to find a natural method that works for you. There are dozens of things you can do, any one of which (or combination of which) could be the cure for you. It probably won’t work for another person.
With this post, I’ll try and overview some of the more common natural remedies for insomnia that work for most people. These may seem pretty simple, and they are.
Lifestyle Issues with Insomnia
There are a couple of major lifestyle issues that some up over and over again in the study of sleep. They seem to be the “bedrock” of getting to the core of your sleep issues. If you were to visit a sleep lab, chances are they would ask if you were covering these simple issues before ever hooking you up to a polysomnogram:
Basic Bedtime Hygiene. I’ve covered this pretty well for the most part in another, separate, post. So I’d suggest you go there for the detail about this one. Note that there’s a couple of sleep hygiene practices that I left out, so they’re listed here.
Get up and go to bed at the same time every day – including weekends. This one is really important. You’re trying to retrain your brain in to knowing when it’s time to go to be (and sleep!) and when it’s time to wake up. Note that the waking up part should be earlier than you would like. 6am or 7am is good. Much later than that, and we’re into “sleeping in” territory – which defeats the whole purpose of this. You should be heading to bed at the same time every night at well. For me, that’s 11pm, but there are methods to determine just when your ideal time should be. Depends on how hard you find falling asleep in the first place.
How to treat stubborn insomnia
What do you do if the basic hygiene above doesn’t seem to work? I know that I’ve tried all of the above, and have yet to come up with a combination that consistently works for me (I think that the exercise and no-TV components are somehow involved, but just last night I realized that every time I drive for an extended period after dark, I have a hard time sleeping – go figure!).
Of all the methods for curing that stubborn insomnia, the one I’ve found that does work is one that involves a bit of discomfort:
Go to bed unusually late – following all of the basic sleep hygiene tips as mentioned above, except a bedtime. Go to bed at least five hours before your going to get up. This will mean you’re up until 1am or 2am in the morning and getting up at 6am or 7am every day. Do this for a couple of weeks, weekends included, and no cheating (which defeats the whole experiment). What we’re trying to do here is reset your internal sleep clock. Making it so that you are truly tired and ready for sleep when you finally give in late, late at night. The fact that you’re getting up early again and won’t go to bed till late will increase sleep pressure (because of a thing called prior wakefulness – you’re awake all day – maybe 18 or 19 hours). This pressure will accumulate over the days until you will sleep.
Once you are regularly sleeping from your late bedtime until early in the morning, start moving your bedtime in 15 minute increments to allow yourself more sleep – if you are going to bed at 1am, make it 12:45am. Try this for a few nights. If you are still sleeping through the night, move it back again. Keep doing this until you find yourself an ideal bedtime – and then stick with it!
You Might Try Isochronic Tones or Binaural Beats
I mentioned this in the hygiene post, too, but it’s worth another look here. The idea behind binaural beats and isochronic tones is that they stimulate activity in your brain through brainwave entrainment (entrainment, not entertainment). It’s thought that different “beats” that are very low in frequency stimulate different areas of your brain – because if we actually look at brainwaves during sleep they have different frequencies during different phases. This stuff has actually been very well researched, and isn’t as corny as it might sound. Google it if you want more information.
You can find these tones for insomnia in general, for power-napping, for falling asleep, and for staying asleep. Some people find the tones very soothing, making it easy and pleasant for them to both fall and stay asleep. It costs almost nothing to try, and it may work well for you (if you go online and see people charging a lot for these tones, look some more – there are programs available – like for an iPhone – that cost $1). Note that binaural tones rely on a mixing of sounds inside your head in order to create these “beats” – so you’ll have to use headphones. Isochronic tones, on the other hand, are a more modern interpretation of the idea, and don’t require headphones – so you could play this all night through speakers in your bedroom! This method may take a couple of weeks to really kick in and make an impact (if it does make an impact) so stick with it.
I personally think that the isochronic/binaural idea is good in that it provides you a method of meditation. And many firmly believe that the only real long term “cure” for stubborn insomnia is to learn relaxation techniques through meditation. I’m coming much closer to this idea too. If the tones can help you get there by focusing on them as you fall asleep, creating a meditative state, then they are well worth the small investment.
We’ve covered a few of the harder methods to improve sleep quality. Basic sleep hygiene, fixing sleep and wake times, limiting sleep to a few hours each night, and the use of tones – either by themselves or as a way to help you meditate. If you were to try these things, there’s a very good chance that your insomnia will be “solved” in a few weeks.