Insomnia can become a real nightmare as the clock ticks on into the night and you're awake to notice. So what can you do? Try some of the approaches listed below.

A relaxing tea, a whiff of lavender oil, creating a sleep routine and various other tactics will help you to drop off more easily and wake up feeling refreshed in the morning.

Prepare your bedroom

  • Keep it fresh. Leave your windows open just a little, even in winter. You'll sleep more soundly if you are breathing in fresh air, and you are less likely to wake up with a headache.
     
  • If you find yourself tossing and turning as you try to get comfortable, consider buying a special neck-supporting pillow. They're specially designed for people who have neck pain or tension that prevents sleep.
     
  • Turn your alarm clock so that you can't see it from your bed. If you're glancing at the clock when you wake up–and it's almost impossible not to–you'll soon start wondering how you can possibly function tomorrow on so little sleep tonight.
     
  • Turn the central heating off (or at least right down) before going to bed. Most people sleep better when the air around them is cool and their bedding is snug.
     
  • If you share a bed, consider buying a queen or king-size bed so that you don't keep each other awake. Some mattresses are designed so that when your partner moves–or even if something heavy is dropped on the other side of the bed–you feel nothing. Or consider sleeping in separate beds.
     
  • A hops-filled pillow can help to relieve insomnia. Hops–the flowers from a plant used in beer-making–release a mild sedative into the air. To make your own pillow, sew 2 30-cm squares of fabric together along 3 sides to form a pocket. Stuff it full of dried hops (available from health food shops) and sew the fourth side shut. Put the pillow near your head so you can smell it at night.

 

Insomnia cures: Before bed

  • Have a slice of turkey or chicken or a banana before going to bed. These foods contain tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses to make serotonin. And serotonin is a brain chemical that helps you to sleep. Keep the helping small, though, or your full tummy may keep you awake.
     
  • Carbohydrates help tryptophan to enter the brain. Try a glass of warm milk (milk contains tryptophan) and a biscuit, or warm milk with a spoonful of honey. A sprinkling of cinnamon won't hurt and might add mild sedative properties of its own.
     
  • Don't go straight to bed at night–enjoy some quiet time just pottering about, perhaps making a ‘to-do’ list for the next day or reviewing the day's activities. That way, when you lie down to go to sleep you won't be kept awake by the day's annoyances or tomorrow's worries.

 

Natural insomnia remedies

  • Lavender has a reputation as a mild tranquilliser. Dilute lavender oil in a carrier oil (5 drops per 10ml) and dab a little onto your temples and forehead before you hit the pillow. The aroma should help to send you off to sleep. You can also add lavender oil to a diffuser or vaporiser to scent your bedroom. Or place a lavender sachet near your pillow.
     
  • Put a drop of jasmine essential oil on each wrist just before bedtime. One study discovered that people who spent the night in jasmine-scented rooms slept more peacefully than people who stayed in unscented–or even in lavender-scented–rooms.
     
  • Try a soothing aromatic bath before bedtime. Add 5 drops lavender oil and 3 drops ylang ylang oil to warm bathwater and enjoy a calming soak.
     
  • One of the best homeopathic medicines for insomnia is Nux vomica. Coffea is said to help when the problem is going off to sleep in the first place, while Calcarea carbonica is recommended for people who wake up in a cold sweat from bad dreams, and who remain agitated through the day, taking tension to bed with them and so perpetuating a vicious cycle of stress and insomnia.
     
  • Valerian can help you fall asleep faster without any ‘hangover’ effect. It binds to the same receptors in the brain that tranquillisers, such as valium, do. Take valerian root capsules or tablets, which have been standardised for valerenic acid content, an hour before going to bed.
     
  • Make passionflower tea. Put 1 teaspoon of the dried herb into a cup of boiling water, leave to infuse for 5 to 10 minutes, strain and drink before bed. Passionflower is widely used as a mild herbal sedative.
     
  • Or you can combine forces, taking a supplement that includes both passionflower and valerian. ‘Natural’ sleep remedies often include other herbal ingredients as well, such as hops and skullcap. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
     
  • Sip camomile tea. Camomile calms the nervous system and makes for restful sleep. Pour 200ml of boiling water over 2 teaspoons of the dried herb, steep, strain and drink before bed. Other herbs worth trying include Californian poppy, lemon verbena and lime flower.

 

Insomnia cures: In bed

  • Instead of turning over and going to sleep, try turning over and having some great sex. Not for nothing have movies and books shown men nodding off after a roll in the proverbial hay. And guess what? That reaction isn't exclusive to men; sex is a pleasurable way to relax, and may also help with the production of hormones that promote sound sleep.
     
  • Once you get into bed, imagine your feet becoming heavy and numb. Feel them sinking into the mattress. Then do the same with your calves and slowly work your way up your body, letting it all grow heavy and relaxed. The idea is to let yourself go, in gradual phases, all the way from head to toe.
     
  • If you're still awake after this progressive relaxation exercise, count sheep. It may sound like an old wives’ tale, but the whole point is to occupy your brain with mind-numbing repetition. Any repetitive counting activity will lull you.
     
  • Try listening to calming, relaxing tapes as you drift off.
     
  • Shut out any stimuli by cocooning yourself in a dark quiet place, even if your bedroom has a streetlight outside and is on a flightpath. How? Just invest in a pair of earplugs and a soft, snug eyeshade to block out unwanted noise and light.
     
  • If you simply can't sleep, don't lie in bed worrying about it; that will only make getting to sleep harder. Get up, leave the bedroom and grab a book, some knitting, a jigsaw puzzle or watch television. Don't read or watch anything too exciting, though, or you'll become engrossed and your mind will be even more wakeful.

 

Insomnia cures: During the day

  • Wake up at the same time each day, no matter how little sleep you had the night before, and don't sleep in at the weekend. Follow the same routine so your body adheres to a pattern all week, and you'll fall asleep faster.
     
  • Go for a walk every morning. It doesn't have to be long but it should be outdoors; natural light sends the signal that it's time to be awake. Your reset body clock will result in better sleep.
     
  • Try not to nap during the day, no matter how tired you feel. People who don't have insomnia often benefit from a short afternoon sleep. However, if you nap during the day only to turn into a wide-eyed zombie at night, there's a good chance that that afternoon snooze is disrupting your body clock. If you must nap, limit it to half an hour at the most.

 

Insomnia cures: Things to avoid

  • Avoid exercising within 4 hours of bedtime–it's too stimulating. Instead, exercise in the morning or after work. An exception is yoga. A number of yoga postures are designed to calm your body and prepare you for sleep.
     
  • Turn off the TV. Or at least don't watch a violent or action-packed drama just before bedtime. Far from helping you to relax, it will only stimulate your brain.
     
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks, particularly within 4 hours of bedtime. Though people have varying ranges of sensitivity to caffeine, the stimulating effects can be long-lasting.
     
  • Also avoid alcohol in the evenings. While a tot of whisky might help you to fall asleep a bit faster than usual, the effects soon wear off and you're much more likely to wake up during the night, or to have a fitful, unsatisfying sleep.
     
  • If you smoke within 4 hours of going to bed, it will result in insomnia. Nicotine stimulates the central nervous system, interfering with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
     
  • Check the labels on decongestants and cold remedies. Medications such as Sudafed may contain ingredients, such as pseudoephedrine, that rev up your nervous system and leave you unable to fall asleep. Look for a night-time formula.
     
  • Avoid large meals late in the evening. You need 3 to 4 hours to digest a big meal, so if you eat a lot within 3 hours of your bedtime, don't be surprised if intestinal grumblings and groanings keep you awake.
     
  • Spicy or sugary food, even at dinnertime, is usually a bad idea. Spices can irritate your stomach, and when it tosses and turns, so will you. Having a lot of sugary food–especially chocolate, which contains caffeine–can make you feel jumpy.

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