InsomniaWe have all been there:  Laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, watching the fan blades turn over and over again.  You lie there wishing that you could turn your brain off like you could turn the fan off.  Many Americans suffer from Insomnia for years, and like many psychological disorders, it is being worsened by your own actions.  Stop suffering – let’s work on this together.  I have compiled a list of tips to help you sleep better and more naturally.  It is time for you to get off of your “addiction” to Ambien and get to sleep on your own (or with supplements).

First Step – Meet your enemies.

This article will focus on the enemies and barriers that prevent you from going to sleep naturally.  You MUST fight these foes, or you will never achieve normal sleep patterns.  I realize that some of you have given in already.  You are already waving the white flag of surrender.  “I cannot go to sleep naturally without my Ambien!”  Well, I want to give you hope.  I want you to be able to go to sleep naturally, so you do not have to fight off the sedative side effects of Ambien metabolytes (breakdown products of the drug) during the daytime.  The next article in this Insomnia Series will help you meet your friends that help you get to sleep naturally.  For now, let’s meet our nocturnal enemies.

1)  Light:  This is your worst enemy when trying to go to sleep.  Light is the single most important factor for you to get to sleep.  Why do you think bats go to caves to sleep during the daytime?  And they’re “blind!”  The reason why light is important for sleep is because the LACK of light is what stimulates your brain to begin producing Melatonin from L-Trytophan and 5-HTP (instead of Serotonin).  As long as light is present, your Pineal Gland does not produce melatonin, and you do not go to sleep.
This makes sense! Before light bulbs were invented, it got dark when the sun went down. Darkness produced melatonin, and we went to sleep.  Then, the sun came out, melatonin production stopped, and we woke up!

In order to establish normal sleep patterns, you must begin turning down light sources two hours before bedtime.  Thirty minutes prior to bedtime, as many lights as possible should be off.  Light sources include the sun (especially if you are a night shift worker), Televisions, electronic tablets / phones, and any light bulbs (lamps, overhead lights).  Even a small nightlight in the corner of the room can suppress your melatonin production.
Tip:  Night shift workers – you should wear EXTREMELY dark sunglasses on your drive home.  You will need blackout curtains in your room.  Wear sunglasses until you get in your blacked out room for sleep.
Tip:  The older Kindles (and other readers) without backlights are okay to use because they do not emit light. Keep the light source being used to read the reader down to a minimum.

2) Caffeine:  For people who cannot sleep, caffeine is their go to drug to keep them awake.  It is a good drug when utilized correctly, but most people with insomnia continue to drink more of it in order to battle their fatigue caused by poor sleep.  Caffeine definitely wakes you up despite lack of sleep, but most people forget about its half-life.  Caffeine’s half-life is approximately six hours.  What does that mean?  Well, you drink a cup of coffee at 7am and feel tired by 1-2pm.  This is because your liver has broken down that caffeine over six hours and destroyed 50% of it.  So, you drink a caffeinated beverage in the afternoon which has half the amount of caffeine as coffee, and it brings your caffeine level back up to 100%.  This means that by 7-8pm (six hours after your last caffeine dose), there is still 50% left in your system.  By 10pm, 35% of the caffeine you consumed is still floating in your bloodstream.

The half-life of caffeine is important to consider. You must stop drinking caffeine at least 6 hours prior to bedtime, but preferably even longer than that. Sources of caffeine include tea, coffee, soda, and energy drinks.

3) Alcohol:  For most people, they believe that alcohol helps them initiate sleep.  This is partially true.  It does lure you into sleep, but it is not very restful sleep.  You will not reach the deep stages of sleep, and your sleep quality will be poor.  If you are like most people, you may think that poor quality sleep leads to better sleep the next night.  Well, this is definitely false.  “Sleep begets sleep.”  Sleep is created by your brain based on patterns.  If you are not sleeping well, you will continue to not sleep well unless you improve your sleep habits.
This is the same for other psychological conditions.  Alcohol for one person just allows them to have a good time.  Alcohol for an alcoholic causes them to spiral out of control into a deep abyss.  If you have insomnia, it is best to avoid alcohol until your sleep patterns have improved.

4) The Bed:  The bed is your enemy.  Yes, this probably shocked you.  In order to improve your sleep cycle, you must begin avoiding your bed at all costs until it is actually bedtime.  You should not nap in your bed, read in your bed, study in your bed, or watch TV in your bed.  After reading this article, your bed is used for two things:  Sleep and Sex.  If you are not doing either of these 2 activities, then you do not need to be in it.

5) Napping:  If you want to completely destroy your sleep cycles — take a nap.  This tells your brain that you have already had sleep and that you do not need more of it.  Therefore, you will continue to struggle with initiating sleep.  In order to reset your sleep cycle, you will need to stop napping.  Sleeping through the night is better than napping in the afternoon (even if the total hours are equal) because you hit deeper stages of sleep when you get continuous sleep as compared to broken sleep (6 hours overnight with a 2 hour nap is NOT equal to 8 hours overnight sleep).

6) Activity:  You must avoid exercise, stimulation, or suspenseful things 3 hours before bedtime.  For example, if you work out in the evening, you need to have completed your workout 3 hours before you hit the hay.  Exercise is also your friend when it comes to sleep.  Regular, cardio-like activity improves sleep as long as it is done far enough in advance before bedtime.
Stressful activity such as confronting a coworker or reviewing a difficult financial decision is not a good idea.  The hours before bedtime will set you up for failure if you do not begin winding down earlier than 2 hours before bedtime.
The same thing goes for suspenseful movies or anything else that may stress you.

7) Weekends (Sleep-Ins and Night Owl Behavior):  For those of you who like to sleep in on the weekend like a hibernating bear, you are NOT doing yourself a favor.  Surprise!  You have ruined your sleep cycle by sleeping for too long.  You must maintain a regular sleep schedule in order to get well-rested, high-quality sleep.  If you wake up at 7am every morning, then you need to wake up fairly close to this time even on the weekends.  If you want to sleep in, only allow yourself one extra hour in order to not disrupt your pattern.
Also, for those of you who see the weekend as an opportunity to stay up late, you will wreck your sleep patterns the remainder of the week if you do not keep your sleep initiation within 1-2 hours of your regular schedule.  If you normally go to sleep at 10pm during the week, then you should not stay up later than midnight on the weekends …unless you like insomnia.

8) Expectations:  You need to set reasonable expectations.  What time are you going to sleep?  What time are you waking up?  What is your ultimate goal for going to sleep and waking up?  You cannot expect that after reading this article that you are magically going to move your bedtime from 2am to 9pm.  You need to aim at making incremental changes closer to your goal by only 30 minutes per week.  For example, if you currently go to sleep at midnight but want to go to sleep by 10pm, then your first goal will be to successfully go to sleep at 11:30pm for 7 days before attempting the 11pm bedtime.  This also goes for waking up earlier.  If you want to wake up at 8am, and you currently sleep until noon.  Then, begin waking up at 11:30am until you can do this for 7 days consecutively.

Summary:  Insomnia and poor sleep is extremely frustrating and tiring.  However, if it is something that you struggle with, and it is important to you that it gets better, then you will heed the words in this article.  Some aspects may be more important for you than others.  You will never know until you begin to make changes.  Habits are always difficult to change, but I am sure you will agree with me in thinking that going to sleep without medications for 8 hours is an excellent, achievable goal.  If making changes gets you off of medication, then I consider it a success.

Now that you know your enemies, stay tuned for my next article where I introduce your friends of sleep.

Good luck and good night!

If you have not read Part II, please click here: Part II: Insomnia – Meet your Friends

#Insomnia #Fatigue #PoorSleep #Ambien #Sleep