Many experts recommend cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of insomnia. CBT corrects the thought patterns and behaviors that can cause or worsen insomnia, with help from a psychologist. But many of the strategies can be done on your own. Here’s how.
Keep a Sleep Log
For seven to 10 days, track the time you get into bed, the approximate time you doze off and the time you wake up. Gathering this information will help you determine how much sleep you need and the best time for you to actually fall asleep.
Get Out of Bed
Lying in bed awake repeatedly associates your bed with anxiety, which perpetuates insomnia. To break this, get out of bed if you’ve been awake for 20 to 30 minutes. Do something monotonous like folding laundry or reading a book. “You want to take your mind off thoughts about not sleeping, but you don’t want to do anything that will activate or arouse the body or brain,” Dr. Arand says. Once you feel sleepy, go back to bed. If you’re awake 20 to 30 minutes later, get up again. “This technique works because of the conditioning effect,” Dr. Arand says. “It also reduces the stress and anxiety that occurs when people are lying awake in bed.”
Stay on Schedule
Come Friday night, it’s tempting to hit the hay late and sleep in the next morning. But if you have insomnia, don’t. Getting up and going to bed at the same time every day helps regulate sleep patterns. “The cycle perpetuates itself.” Dr. Foldvary says.
Skip the Siesta
It’s normal to feel tired in the afternoon—that’s when your body experiences the postprandial dip, when your circadian rhythm hits a slump. If you have insomnia, it’s best to avoid napping. “Everyone has a certain number of hours that their body needs to sleep, and sleeping during the day moves some of the nighttime sleep to the day,” Arand says. “This will make it difficult to fall asleep and reduce the time you spend sleeping during the night.”
Exercise might be the farthest thing from your mind when you’re tired. But physical activity can do wonders for insomnia. Studies show that people who exercise spend more time in slow-wave sleep, the deepest stages of sleep. Exercise works best when it’s done at least three hours before bed, says Lisa Shives, MD, medical director of the Northshore Sleep Medicine, in Evanston, Illinois. “We think that exercise helps by raising the core body temperature and then it’s the subsequent drop in body temperature that encourages drowsiness and sleep,” she says.
Create the Right Ambience
For the best sleep, set the thermostat between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Most insomniacs have higher-than-normal body temperatures, which keeps you awake. It’s also important to darken the room and remove all light-emitting electronics, including TVs and computers. Darkness helps stimulate your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleepiness.
Have a Nightly Ritual
You might think you’re just watching a little TV and brushing your teeth, but your brain knows otherwise—these nightly habits signal that you’re preparing for bed. “The routine becomes an expectation, and your brain will anticipate sleep,” Dr. Emsellem says.