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Slip into a Steady Slumber

Tips for Curing Insomnia
  -- By Liz Noelcke, Staff Writer

Sleep is something that your body craves, but also something that everybody struggles with periodically. You’ve tried to cure it the right way. You stopped drinking caffeine late in the day; you didn’t eat a heavy meal right before bed; you made sure that the lights were off; you’ve tried to keep a definite bedtime schedule consistently. And yet, as you lie in bed sleepless and frustrated, none of this really seems to matter. When insomnia hits, you could spend hours stressing, or try a few new things to ease you into a peaceful slumber.

Difficulty falling (and staying) asleep is a common problem. As an important source of energy for the body, sleep is a valuable commodity. If you have been lying in bed for a while and can’t sleep, get up. Don’t just stay in bed and worry about not having enough energy to get all you need to get done the following day. Do something tonight to encourage the Sandman to appear a little sooner:

Go for a soak
Go relax in the bathtub. This soothes both body and mind. Try adding some sleep-inducing scents, like lavender oil, into the tub. You can also put a few drops of these oils onto your pillow to pacify you in bed as well. Don’t make the mistake of taking a shower. This can actually awaken your body. Opt for a warm bath instead. Couple this with some candles and calm music and you’ll be set.

Drink it up
Have a glass of warm milk. You thought this was just an old wives’ tale, but it actually works! Heating up milk really does have a tranquilizing effect on the body that can calm you down and prepare you for sleep. In fact, the same amino acid that gives turkey its reputation for causing drowsiness is also found in milk, and it causes more serotonin to be released in the body. Can’t stand the idea of warm milk? Add a drop or two of vanilla extract. Still not sounding tempting? Try some chamomile tea. A number of people think that having an alcoholic drink right before bed does the trick. Although this might initially make you sleepy, it doesn’t prep you for sound sleep, and chances are, you’ll toss and turn during the night.

Find an activity
Do something relaxing out of the bed. Try some light reading—although an action thriller probably wouldn’t be the best choice for these purposes. Watch something a little boring on television at low volume (think the Learning or Home Shopping Channels). Don’t watch anything that will wind you back up. Looking for other ideas? Sew, scrapbook, or write a letter. This activity should be easy, nothing that will key your nervous system back up. Once your eyes get droopy again, hit the sack.

De-stress
The worst thing you can do is sit in bed and think about everything you didn’t get done today, and all of the work you’ll have the next day. Worrying about it won’t get any of it done, so let it leave your mind. If it helps, make a to-do list so that you don’t forget anything the next day. But leave it at that; once it is on the paper, forget about it. Another trick for troubled sleeping is to turn the clocks away from your bed so that you can’t count the passing minutes. If you focus on the fact that you are not sleeping, you’ll make your problem worse.

Add some noise
Wait a second, isn’t it true that your bedroom should be as quiet as possible? Well, up to a point, yes. The darker and quieter the room is, the more deeply you’ll sleep, even if you don’t realize it. But, adding "white noise" into the background of your bedroom can actually help you slumber. These steady, quiet sounds will block out other more disturbing noises that might keep you awake. Plus, once you are asleep, you’ll be less likely to wake up from other noises. Try keeping a fan blowing at night—a cool bedroom is more conducive to sleep anyway. Or, try playing relaxing music or natural sounds, especially something that can be set on a timer. You can buy CD’s that play gentle rain, waterfalls, or wind noises—there are plenty of choices.

Listen to your body
One reason you might have trouble sleeping is that your body is tense. Try a relaxation video or CD that guides you through loosening up and relaxing each muscle group. Start at your feet, contracting and relaxing your muscles, and move all of the way up your body. This is a quick technique to unwind. Plus, deep-breathing exercises, which mimic your respiration pattern while sleeping, can help convince your body that it is time to drift off.

In the future…
Exercise! Consistent fitness and good nutrition are directly linked to improved sleep. Of course, if you are lying in bed restless, it might be a little late. But, start tomorrow and you’ll sleep better in nights to come. If (and when!) you do exercise, make sure it’s not right before bedtime, which can interfere with your body’s ability to relax and nod off.

Make going to bed a routine. Begin your routine around the same time every night, even on weekends. This could include any of the techniques listed above. It could simply mean changing into your pajamas and brushing your teeth. Do something consistently that your body will learn as signals to settle down for the night, and you’ll wake up refreshed the next day.