If you have been tossing and turning and wondering if you will ever fall asleep, then you are not alone. Over the course of a year, up to one fifth of adults experience insomnia. Insomnia is also more common in older people. Learn why sleep is so important and what you can do to improve yours.
During sleep, the body repairs itself and revitalizes organs and muscles. In addition, sleep is important for proper functioning of the immune system and the nervous system. Lack of sleep can result in:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Increased feelings of stress
- Impaired memory and thinking
- Lower motivation
- Slower reflexes
Changes in your daily routine may help you sleep better at night. These include:
- Keep regular hours—Try to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning, even on weekends.
- Regular exercise—Exercise helps relieve tension. Try to avoid exercising too close to bedtime or you may have a hard time falling asleep.
- Cut down on stimulants—Consuming stimulants, such as caffeine, in the evening interferes with your ability to fall asleep and may affect deep sleep. Instead, have a cup of herbal tea, which is noncaffeinated, before bed. You may even want to cut caffeine from your diet entirely.
- Do not smoke—Smokers tend to take longer to fall asleep, awaken more often, and experience disrupted, fragmented sleep. Talk to your doctor about how can successfully quit.
- Avoid eating before sleeping—Plan to finish eating 2–3 hours before you go to bed. If you eat too close to bedtime, then you could experience nightime waking.
- Drink alcohol in moderation—You may fall asleep faster, but drinking alcohol shortly before bedtime interrupts and fragments your sleep.
Once you are home for the night, these steps may help to prompt your body for sleep:
- Develop a sleep ritual—Whether it is taking a hot bath, drinking a cup of herbal tea, listening to music, or reading a book. Doing the same things each night just before bed cues your body to settle down for the night.
- Unwind early in the evening—Deal with worries and distractions several hours before going to bed. Make a list of things you need to do tomorrow, so you will not think about them all night. Try relaxation exercises, like slow rhythmic breathing.
- Sleep on a comfortable, supportive mattress and foundation—It is difficult to get deep, restful sleep on a bed that is too small, too soft, or too hard.
- Create a restful sleep environment—A dark, quiet room is more conducive to sleep. Sudden, loud noises or bright lights can disrupt sleep. You may want to try using a white noise machine to block out distractions. A room that is too hot or too cold can disturb sleep as well. The ideal bedroom temperature is between 60-65°F.
- Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex —Do not use the bedroom for things like paying bills, watching television, or discussing the problems of the day.
If your doctor advised you take sleep medication, take them as directed. Sleep medications should only be used temporarily and as a last resort. Most are taken within an hour of bedtime and should only be used when you plan on getting a full night of sleep.
In some cases, insomnia may the cause of, or be caused by other health conditions. Talk to your doctor about getting proper treatment so you can get a better night's sleep.
National Institute on Aging
National Sleep Foundation
Better Sleep Council Canada
Canadian Sleep Society
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Insomnia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114839/Insomnia-in-adults. Updated June 5, 2017. Accessed November 16, 2017.
Insomnia fact sheet. Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/insomnia.html. Updated June 12, 2017. Accessed November 16, 2017.
Melatonin. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/biomedical-libraries/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated October 16, 2017. Accessed November 16, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 12/16/2015