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  • Writer's pictureTim Morch

Eight Hacks to Combat Insomnia

Updated: Mar 17, 2019

How Well are You Sleeping?

Sleeping Baby

When was the last time you slept like a baby? If your answer is “when I was a baby,” you are not alone. My irregular sleep patterns over the past months have prompted me to investigate sleep disorders and discover ways to combat the problem.

I often find myself rolling about in bed around 3:30am. I call this ‘processing’, but I know it’s more. Fretting about my daughter, relationship pressures, financial concerns and, even planning the next trip, occupy countless hours. Apparently, I am not the only one.

Sooner or later, most of us experience insomnia. The US National Institute of Health estimates 30% of the population complains of sleep disruption.

Oxford University professor Colin Espie defines insomnia as “a difficulty getting to sleep and/or staying asleep, occurring three or more nights per week, for at least three months.”

Sleep disorders causing insomnia “include excessive daytime sleepiness, irregular breathing or increased movement during sleep, and difficulty falling asleep.” For many, it is simply the result of the brain refusing to shut off.

Researchers have begun to think about insomnia as a problem of your brain being unable to stop being awake (your brain has a sleep cycle and a wake cycle—when one is turned on the other is turned off—insomnia can be a problem with either part of this cycle: too much wake drive or too little sleep drive).”

How many hours per night?

We all know that a good night’s sleep is important. How many hours do you need? For adults, between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night is the magic number.

“Some people claim to feel rested on just a few hours of sleep a night, but their performance is likely affected. Research shows that people who sleep so little over many nights don't perform as well on complex mental tasks as do people who get closer to seven hours of sleep a night,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

The number of recommended hours of sleep per night varies considerably with age. Kids need lots of sleep – 12 hours or more a day up to 5 years of age. You might be surprised to learn that 6 to 13-year-old kids should get between 9 and 11 hours each day. And even ages 14 to 17 should get 8 to 10 hours.

The Impact of Circadian Rhythm

We all have an internal clock that operates 24/7 in the background of our brain. It cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. This sleep/wake cycle is your circadian rhythm.

“The body clock is influenced by genes and lifestyle factors including diet, exposure to artificial light and jobs and activities. It affects a wide range of molecular processes, including hormone levels and core body temperature, as well as waking and sleeping patterns.” Guardian

Everyone has a different clock. There are night-owls and early-birds. Recent research has identified interesting differences between these two types. Early birds are more likely to have an even temperament than night owls. They also score higher for persistence and cooperation. A similar analysis of over 1230 adults found early risers were more agreeable and more conscientious than their night-owl counterparts.

It’s not all bad news for night owls. They scored higher in novelty seeking and are more likely to be extroverts.

Effects of Insomnia

An inadequate sleeping regimen can have a variety of side effects. Some studies have linked sleep deprivation to obesity, school grades, breast cancer, Type II diabetes and mental health.

Early-birds may have decreased liability of depression and there is “evidence that being a morning person confers a liability to lower risk of schizophrenia and greater subjective well-being.” Conversely, poor sleepers are twice as likely to develop depression.

There are links among aging, sleep deprivation, and heightened risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Deep sleep activates the brains waste removal system. One study reported “increasingly clear evidence that quality of sleep or sleep deprivation can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia.”

8 Tips to Combat Insomnia

“There are as many theories as there are insomniacs, but most agree that medication is not the best way to combat insomnia. Natural techniques will have a better impact and last longer. Try to stick to a regular sleep schedule (same bedtime and wake-up time), seven days a week.”

Daily exercise is an important component to achieving a healthy sleep pattern.

Try these recommendations:

  1. Establish a regular bedtime routine, like a bath or shower.

  2. Make sure your sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. Your bed should be comfortable, and your room shouldn’t be too hot, too cold, or too bright.

  3. Practice relaxing breathing exercises, stretching, yoga and meditation before bed.

  4. Avoid coffee and caffeine drinks after midday,

  5. Avoid too much alcohol, nicotine or chocolate before bed.

  6. Be sure your pillow is comfortable.

  7. Associate your bed with sleep and sex only. Don’t work, eat or watch TV in bed.

  8. Turn your clock around so you can’t see the time, turn off the computer screen and put your phone in flight mode.

If all else fails, try Cognitive Behavioural Treatment. Espie says that “once insomnia becomes chronic, the only effective treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).”

As I roll around in my bed thinking of how I will finish this article, I have started to apply the techniques above. Exercise has proven effective, leaving me tired at the end of the day and removing electronics is also working.

Please let me know if this article helps. If you have any comments, feel free to contact me.

Tim Morch is a freelance writer and content developer with a penchant for travel. He can usually be found paddling a sea kayak, riding a wave, cycling single-track or riding backroads on a motorcycle. Part of his sleepless “processing” involves planning the next adventure.
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