Insomnia is the technical term for having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. It’s a common reason many adults don’t get the recommended 7 hours of sleep each night.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to half of adults in the United States experience short-term insomnia at some point in their lives. And 1 in 10 adults struggle with long-term, or chronic, insomnia. Chronic insomnia increases your risk of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and motor vehicle accidents, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).
Not getting a good night’s sleep can leave you exhausted the next day. Insomnia also can affect your physical health. It’s linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Whether you are dealing with short-term or chronic insomnia, don’t despair. There’s a way out of the endless loop. Here’s how to get a handle on insomnia and back to getting a good night’s sleep.
What to Do If You Can’t Fall Asleep
It’s frustrating to toss and turn at night when you want to sleep. It can leave you thinking, I can’t sleep, what should I do? Getting a good night’s sleep starts with good sleep hygiene. It sounds simple, but many people don’t follow good sleep habits, making their insomnia worse.
Follow these tips to help you fall asleep and stay asleep:
- Stick to a sleep schedule.
- Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.
- Follow your sleep routine, even on weekends and during vacations.
- Choose a schedule that allows you to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
- Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. The blue light from these devices disrupts your body’s production of melatonin, a chemical that helps you fall asleep. To avoid temptation, keep TVs, smartphones, and other electronics out of the bedroom.
- Switch your bedroom’s light bulbs to orange or pink-hued ones. Bulbs in this light spectrum don’t disrupt melatonin levels. This further reduces blue light exposure before bed.
- Prep your bedroom for sleep. Keep it cool, dark, and quiet. The ideal sleep temperature for most people is 65 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
- Keep your bedroom for sleep and sex only. Don’t set up a home office in your bedroom.
- Avoid food and drinks with caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
- Avoid large, fatty meals and alcohol before bedtime.
- Reduce your fluid intake before bed. This can keep you from getting up to use the bathroom at night.
- Practice relaxation techniques before bed, such as deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, or visualization exercises.
- Try using a white noise machine. You can also download white noise apps to see if this works for you.
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What to Do If You Can’t Stay Asleep
Insomnia can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. You want to sleep but feel wide awake. For many people, this often occurs a few hours before they typically wake up for the day. Tips for falling back asleep if you’re awake include:
- Get out of bed if you can’t fall back asleep after 20 minutes. Go to another room that you find relaxing and do something soothing. Keep the lights low.
- Don’t turn on any electronics. It’s tempting to want to watch TV or get on your smartphone, but that will disrupt your sleep further.
- Read something boring, but in a paper version.
- Try listening to soothing music or use white noise to lull you back to sleep.
- Don’t grab a midnight snack. The digestion process can disrupt your sleep further.
- Try lowering the temperature to see if that helps.
When Should You See Your Doctor?
Chronic insomnia can cause excessive daytime sleepiness. You can find yourself nodding off during the day, or you may have difficulty concentrating or completing daily tasks.
Even if you’re able to manage your insomnia, it’s important to let your doctor know that you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Your doctor can conduct a complete physical to rule out any underlying conditions. Sleep disorders, mental health problems, and some medicines can lead to insomnia.
If a mental health issue is disrupting your sleep, your doctor can refer you to a mental health expert. The most effective long-term treatment for insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This approach can help you address the thoughts and behaviors that keep you from falling asleep and staying asleep.
CBT for chronic insomnia generally takes 6 to 8 sessions, according to the AASM.
How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart Health? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.
Key Sleep Disorders. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.
Tips for Better Sleep. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.
Healthy Sleep Habits. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Link.
Insomnia Awareness Night Sheds Light on Sleeplessness. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Link.
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About Sleep Medicine
Getting a good night’s sleep is a crucial part of living a healthy life. But that’s a problem for millions of Americans dealing with sleep deprivation. The UPMC Sleep Medicine Center diagnoses and treats numerous sleep conditions or disorders. We also provide help to people suffering from lack of sleep because of other health problems. We recognize a lack of sleep can cause problems during other times of the day, including alertness, memory, and health immunity. We hold sleep studies and lead clinical trials, all in the name of helping you sleep.