Learn How to Combat Insomnia with These 11 Tips

Zero caffeine before bed, breathing exercises, and creating a comfortable environment help combat insomnia. Keep reading to learn more tips.
Learn How to Combat Insomnia with These 11 Tips
Macarena Liliana Nuñez

Written and verified by the psychologist Macarena Liliana Nuñez.

Last update: 28 December, 2023

Have you spent a night tossing and turning in bed while the clock ticks away? If so, you know how exhausting and challenging it is to combat insomnia. And you’re not alone in this battle, as this is one of the most common sleep disorders.

According to the Sleep Foundation, between 10 and 15% of people experience chronic insomnia, a type of insomnia that persists for several months.

In this article, we’ll take you to explore the underlying causes of such a common problem. We’ll also offer recommendations to help you fall asleep more easily. Keep reading!

Practical tips to combat insomnia

The tips presented here are strategies supported by the practical guidelines of the governments of Spain and Mexico for the treatment of insomnia. Below, we’ll explain each one in detail.

1. Create a sleep hygiene routine

To effectively address insomnia, it’s essential to establish a solid sleep hygiene routine. This includes a series of practices and habits that aim to promote a restful rest.

You can design your own routine, which should involve creating a regular sleep schedule, meaning that you go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, even on weekends. Setting an alarm an hour before you need to go to bed is a helpful reminder.

2. Control external stimuli and turn everything off

Creating the right conditions in your bedroom is key. For starters, keep it cool and dark. You can use blackout curtains or a sleeping mask to block out the light. You should also reduce bothersome noises. Also, choose a good mattress and pillows to avoid back and neck discomfort, and opt for breathable bedding like linen or cotton. Finally, it’s also useful to try essential oils, such as lavender, to help you fall asleep.

At the same time, it’s essential to avoid watching television or working in bed during the day so as not to associate the place where you sleep with activity instead of rest. Also, despite the common urge to watch TV or scroll on social media before bed, electronic screens are inadvisable within the last two hours before bedtime, as blue light from devices such as phones, computers and TVs stimulates the brain and makes it difficult to sleep.

A good practice is to leave digital devices out of the bedroom and use a separate alarm clock instead of the phone. Other habits that prepare the body and mind for a restful rest are the following:

  • Pink noise
  • White noise
  • Binaural beats
  • Tibetan bowl music

3. Restrict times spent sleeping and staying active during the day

To combat insomnia, you should take no long naps during the day or at night. Likewise, it’s a good idea to exercise a few hours before going to bed.

Incorporating regular exercise into your daytime routine helps you feel more fatigued at night and promotes better quality sleep, according to a review in Advances in Preventive Medicine. Other research suggests that exercise enhances the effects of melatonin, the natural sleep hormone.

4. Reduce food consumption close to bedtime

Sometimes, falling asleep is difficult if your stomach is full, although it’s not advisable to go to bed hungry either. One way to combat insomnia is to have dinner two or three hours before going to bed.

If you feel hungry right before bed, consider a light snack, such as a serving of fruit or a few crackers. It’s a good idea to avoid foods and drinks that cause digestive discomfort.

Forget spicy, greasy, heavy, or acidic foods. Likewise, stay away from drink carbonated drinks and foods with high protein content in the evening. Instead, choose light and easy-to-digest foods.

5. Zero caffeine before bed

Caffeine is a stimulant that keeps the mind alert and causes anxiety. Its effects persist for up to six hours, so it’s best to reduce its consumption in the evening hours before you go to sleep. There are more relaxing alternatives, such as chamomile, valerian, lemon balm, passionflower, and lime blossom tea, among others.

However, it’s important to remember that the effects of these herbs vary from person to person, so it’s always important to consult with a health professional before incorporating them into your routine, especially if you take medications or other treatments.

6. Avoid nicotine and alcohol

Both nicotine and alcohol negatively affect the quality of sleep. The first, in addition to posing health risks like cardiovascular diseases and cancer, is linked to sleep problems such as insomnia and apnea, a condition in which breathing stops and starts during the night, according to a study published in the journal Sleep Medicine .

At the same time, having a drink before bed may help you feel drowsy at first, but as alcohol is metabolized in the body, it may reduce the time you spend in deep REM sleep, cause dehydration, and increase the risk of snoring and sleep apnea.

7. Get up when you can’t sleep

On nights when you find yourself tossing and turning, counting sheep, and experiencing frustration, it’s a good idea to use paradoxical intention, better known as reverse psychology.

This concept implies a strategy that goes against the apparent intention in order to achieve a desired result. For example, you could tell yourself something like, “Try to stay awake at night and focus on the idea that you don’t need sleep at all. Allow yourself to be awake.”

So, if you spend more than 20 minutes in bed without sleeping, you can get up and do an alternative activity, such as the following:

The idea behind this approach is that by removing the pressure and anxiety associated with the need to sleep, you’ll reduce your struggle with insomnia and, paradoxically, experience greater relaxation, making you more likely to fall asleep.

8. Control your breathing and relax

Breathing is a powerful tool to induce calm and counteract the fight or flight response. In particular, diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the vagus nerve and quickly and effectively triggers sleep.

You can also incorporate other relaxing activities into your bedtime routine, such as meditation or mindfulness. In addition, taking a warm shower, wearing comfortable pajamas, taking care of your dental hygiene, or doing gentle stretches can also help you fall asleep more effectively.

You can try box breathing, the 4-7-8 method, yogic breathing (Bhramari pranayama), and three-part breathing. [/atomic-in-text]

9. Write down your worries

A strategy recommended by experts to deal with reflective thoughts before sleeping and thus avoid a sleepless night is to write down your worries and pending tasks. This frees up space in your mind from nightly rumination.

Additionally, the process of writing itself is relaxing and promotes better sleep. Even consider keeping a nightly journal on your bedside table where you record your thoughts or make a to-do list before going to bed

A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology supports this practice, finding that those who wrote down pending tasks fell asleep more quickly than those who wrote about the current day’s activities.

10. Use cognitive and behavioral treatments (CBT)

A meta-analysis published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews indicated that cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is the most effective initial treatment to combat chronic insomnia.

CBT-I helps control anxiety related to sleep problems and establish better rest habits because it benefits sleep parameters according to polysomnography, reduces sleep onset latency, and has a moderate effect on reducing total sleep time.

Other studies reveal that these strategies are more effective in combating insomnia than focusing on sleep hygiene alone. Therefore, if you have difficulty getting a restful rest, we recommend consulting with a mental health professional who specializes in sleep disorders.

11. Try alternative treatments

Exploring alternative treatments is one option. There are various strategies to combat insomnia; for example, supplements such as melatonin, CBD, valerian, and L-theanine. Additionally, acupuncture can also be taken into account.

However, before incorporating any of these supplements into your habits, it’s crucial to talk about it with a doctor who can determine the best strategy based on your personal needs and circumstances. Each individual is unique, and what works for one may not be as effective for another.

Factors associated with insomnia

The causes of insomnia change between people; Often, it’s a combination of issues. A study published in the journal Physiological Reviews points out genetic factors, as well as the structure and functioning of the brain as influential in a person’s vulnerability to developing insomnia. Below, we’ll mention other aspects that trigger or aggravate it:

  • Stress
  • Irregular sleeping habits
  • The excessive consumption of caffeine or alcohol
  • Chronic pain or painful illnesses
  • Medical disorders, such as sleep apnea
  • Changes in environment or sleep schedule
  • Mental health problems, such as depression
  • Emotional factors, such as worries or traumas
  • Eating heavy or spicy foods before going to bed
  • Medications such as corticosteroids, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), and antidepressants, among others

The American Psychiatric Association notes that insomnia affects approximately 6% to 10% of the population. In addition to interrupting rest, this could be an alarm that indicates the presence of stress and anxiety. In fact, people with insomnia symptoms have a greater susceptibility to anxiety during stressful situations (Kalmbach et al., 2018).

Likewise, the relationship between insomnia and anxiety is more evident in disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder. What’s more, older adults face a higher risk of medical and psychiatric problems related to depression and insomnia. ADHD and episodes of mania or hypomania due to bipolar disorder are also triggers for insomnia.

Insomnia: A nocturnal monster

This sleep disorder affects our brain, mental health, and body, as well as our quality of life. To combat insomnia, the implementation of sleep hygiene habits is crucial, as they make it easier to turn off the mind before going to bed and rest adequately at night.

However, there’s no universal solution. It’s important to find what works best for each individual, and if there are underlying problems or mental health disorders related to sleep, it’s time to seek professional guidance. We all deserve the best sleep possible.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.