Insomnia affects as much as half of all adults in the US. Sufferers can experience symptoms as infrequently as a couple of nights a week, or can be deprived of sleep for much longer periods of time. Sleep deprivation affects your ability to function during the day, causing headaches, anxiety, irritability, depression, digestive distress, and difficulty in focus or memory.
Insomnia is often caused by stress at work or school, depression, chronic pains, medications, or poor sleep habits. There are many possible treatments for insomnia, determined case-by-case depending on the symptoms and likely cause. If you believe that you are suffering from insomnia, you should first consult a doctor. While your doctor may recommend any of a variety of treatment methods, there are a few things you can do at home to improve your sleep environment:
Lower the temperature. Keeping the temperature comfortably cooler than daytime warmth has been shown to improve the quality of sleep, and tends to help patients go to sleep. As your body gets tired, its metabolic functions slow, and its ideal internal temperature lowers. That mild drop in temperature, first in the room and then in your body, can help induce sleep.
Block out light sources. To reduce stimuli and encourage sleep triggers in your brain, your bedroom needs to be as dark as possible. Even lights as small and distant as streetlights or the moon can disrupt your sleep. Turn off or block out all light sources, such as electronics and windows.
Close your door and windows. As you’re laying in bed trying to fall asleep, any stimulus can grab your attention and keep you at least slightly alert. When you’re suffering from a sleep disorder like insomnia, your brain has a harder time blocking out stimuli, like ambient light and sounds, and switching to a more restful state. To combat this, close your bedroom door and close your windows completely. You want to try and make your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible to reduce distractions.
Hide your clocks. Even if you are suffering from insomnia, you should still set an alarm clock to a reasonable wake-up hour. Once you set an alarm, hide all the clocks in your bedroom from sight. This includes your wristwatch and your cell phone. This reduces the temptation to check what time it is, which is both a stimulus that keeps your brain from switching to a restful state and an additional worry that can lead to nighttime anxiety, further worsening your sleep deprivation.
Remove computers and TVs. Modern electronics offer us ways to stay connected 24/7. Unfortunately, that can and will affect both our ability to fall asleep and the quality of what sleep we get. This is due to what’s called cognitive stimulation, which is when the brain is alerted and its electrical activity revs up – the exact opposite of what should be happening before sleep. To combat this effect, move your computers and television sets to other parts of the house, and put your personal electronics in a nightstand drawer and out of sight.