Insomnia may be caused by many problems, including depression, restless leg syndrome, anxiety about an upcoming stress, certain medicines, excessive caffeine, pain, hot flashes from menopause, alcoholism and thyroid disease. If you think there is a medical reason for you sleep problems, then talk with your doctor. However, if no specific problem can be found, try the following suggestions. They have been proven to help other people (some who have had insomnia for many years).
- Try sleep restriction therapy. The idea sounds a bit counter-intuitive, but it does work. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, no matter how little you sleep. Do not take naps to "catch up" on sleep. Start with only 4-6 hours of time in bed - for example, go to bed at 1 AM and get up at 5 AM. Gradually go to bed earlier and get up later, until you find a schedule that is right for you.
- Avoid drinking fluids after supper (so you don't have to get up at night to urinate)
- Avoid caffeine, especially in the evening. That means tea, coffee, and even coffee ice cream.
- Avoid alcohol if your insomnia is severe, or at least keep it to only 1 drink in the evening.
- Avoid heavy meals in the evening. A light bedtime snack helps some people to sleep.
- Don't smoke, since nicotine is a stimulant just like caffeine.
- Don't nap during the daytime, even if you are really tired.
- Exercise regularly, but avoid strenuous exertion within 4 hours of bedtime.
- Use the bed for sleep and sex only. Don't watch TV or work in bed. Go to bed only when you're sleepy.
- If you can't fall asleep after 20-30 minutes, get up and read (not a compelling thriller, though!), listen to music, or do something else that isn't too interesting.
- If you want to try an herbal medicine, try valerian. One reported dose is 400-900 mg of the extract at bedtime. Melatonin doesn't seem to work. Avoid taking prescription benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan) regularly, as you will become tolerant to them or even addicted to them.