Get Some Exercise
If we polled farmers or anyone else who does manual labor eight to ten hours a day, very few would report a problem with insomnia. But for most of us, hard work is reserved for the mental sphere, so we need to exercise our bodies if weíre going to sleep well. Studies of athletes have shown that they do not require more (or less) sleep than sedentary folks, but their ratio of deep to light sleep is higher. Doing some form of aerobic exercise at least three times a week also increases this ratio. Just be sure to avoid strenuous exercise within several hours of bedtimeóit can be stimulating. But if you exercise at any other time, youíll sleep better.
Itís OK to do long, slow stretches near bedtime, however, for they will release muscular tension and prepare you for sleep. Focus on asanas (postures) that you find relaxing. Avoid intense backward bends, such as the wheel, as they may prove to be too invigorating at the end of the day.
Experiment with Natural Remedies
Homeopathic remedies and herbs can help with insomnia. Homeopathic medicines are extremely dilute extracts from natural substances, so they donít have the rebound effects drugs do. They are considered to be non-toxic by the FDA, and many low-potency remedies are sold over the counter. One of the best treatments for insomnia is homeopathic coffee, coffea cruda. Although coffee causes irritability and sleeplessness in physiologic doses, in homeopathic doses it can cure these states.
Valerian root, passionflower, and hops, taken before bedtime in either tablet or tea form, are other alternatives. These gentle, relaxing substances help your body rest, but they donít affect your central nervous system the way prescription sleep medicines do. Both homeopathic remedies and herbal preparations can be purchased at most healthfood stores or through a holistic physician.
Insomnia is a huge problem in this fast-paced, sugar- and caffeine-addicted country. But if we can first identify the habits we have that contribute to our sleeplessness and slowly change them, and at the same time add more relaxation and deep breathing to our pre-sleep routine, we will sleep better.
Above all, donít panic. Insomnia is not life-threatening, although many people respond to it with agitation or fear. The more anxious you make yourself about not sleeping, the more sleep will elude you. So turn the clock to the wall and drop the internal dialogue about what a horrible day you will have tomorrow if you donít get to sleep immediately. The key to sound sleep lies in surrendering, not in trying harder. Once youíre in bed, focus on your breath and empty your mind. If you have a mantra, let your mind rest in it. Be kind to yourself. Remember, sleep cannot be forced, but it can be coaxed. It is waiting for you. Allow yourself to come to it, enter it, and let the world spin without you for a while.
Board-certified in internal medicine, Carrie Demers, MD, is the director of the Himalayan Institute Total Health Center.