How to beat insomnia

Monday, 9 January 2012

It’s 2.27am. You’re lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. Perhaps you’re thinking about work, or running through tomorrow’s chores, or your child’s school report. Perhaps you’re thinking that this is the third time you’ve been awake all night this week and oh God why can’t you get to sleeeeeep?!
You’ve counted 1 000 sheep, 40 winks and two cats mating in the alley outside. And you still. Can’t. Sleep.

how to beat insomnia

Apart from simply being frustrating, there is evidence that insomnia is linked to early death and serious declines in quality of life. Studies show that poor sleepers receive fewer promotions, have increased rates of absenteeism, and tend to demonstrate poor productivity. Over time, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to an array of serious medical conditions including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even early mortality.

Many of us experience temporary insomnia from a few days to a few weeks. Characterised by difficulty falling asleep and/or maintaining sleep, this kind of insomnia usually results from normal events in our lives, such as stressful incidents, upheavals, illness, environmental factors and disruptions in your circadian rhythm.

Chronic insomnia – difficulty sleeping at least three nights per week for one month or more – can be caused by many different factors, and often occurs in conjunction with other health problems. Psychological factors such as depression, bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder may be the cause, while physiological causes may include substance abuse (such as alcoholism) and certain medical conditions (such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, Parkinson’s disease, hyperthyroidism, epilepsy, and fibromyalgia). Other types of sleep disorders, such as restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea, can cause insomnia. Also bear in mind that we need less sleep as we get older.

How to catch some Zs

Unfortunately, insomnia is quite difficult to treat if the cause is not easily identified. Here are a few dos and don’ts to help prime your mind, body and environment for sleep. But if you’ve tried them all for at least a week and still have trouble sleeping, consult your GP or a sleep specialist, who will help you identify the underlying cause. Visit to find a sleep centre near you.

• Exercise regularly (in the morning or afternoon, not in the evening).
• Eat the right foods. Bananas, potatoes, oatmeal and/or whole-wheat bread are believed to aid sleep.
• Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day.
• Choose a dark, quiet sleeping environment that has a moderate temperature.
• Practise a relaxation technique before bed – meditation, breathing exercises and mild yoga are good options.
• Have a warm (but not too hot) bath before you go to sleep.
• Get up and do something for a while if you can’t sleep; try to go back to sleep again a little later.
• Have a mug of warm milk before going to bed – it has natural sedative compounds in it.

• Watch TV before bed – or check your email. Research shows that that people who consume electronic media (read: stare at a backlit screen) just before bedtime report lower-quality sleep.
• Sleep during the day.
• Eat a heavy, difficult-to-digest meal before bedtime.
• Drink any caffeine or alcohol a few hours before bedtime.
• Smoke.
• Read or work in bed during the day.
• Allow your pets to sleep in your room! Animal skin cells and hair can create allergies that manifest only at night.

Written by

Rachel McGregor is a Cape Town journalist (and part-time narcissist) specialising in food, health and lifestyle-related features. In her spare time she loves to cook and poke fun at hipsters. Sometimes she dreams of giving it all up and becoming a millionaire.

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  1. Livvy

    i’ll have to practise all these techniques over and over again. i generally dont sleep well, i am aware that i’ve stopped taking my vitamins and my diets been crazy with all the chocolates i’ve been eating for christmas, valentines day and recently easter and oops mothers day is looming.

    6 years ago •

  1. Pseudo_kate

    I find that exercise in the evenings and meditation just before I jump into bed helps so much.

    6 years ago •

  1. Ayesh

    I don’t have insomnia… I just prefer to go to bed late at night because once everyone is asleep, I can finally get some work done! I do have a friend who suffers from bad insomnia, though. Just emailed the link of this article to him. Sweet Wes, you’re going to get some sleep now, kay! lol.

    Good tips. I hope everyone can use them and hopefully get some beauty rest. :p

    6 years ago •

  1. Lauren

    I used to watch a lot of TV before bed and tended to struggle to get to sleep. I cut that out and since, I havent had any problems sleeping. Also, exercise definitely does help :)

    6 years ago •

  1. Anne

    Need to stop watching tv before bedtime

    6 years ago •

  1. SpiceY

    I suffer from insomnia , but always pick up my laptop. Thanks for the advise!!!!! I must be calm

    7 years ago •

  1. ricebunny

    I suffer from insomnia! Thanks this was very useful

    7 years ago •

  1. foreverGLAM

    Haven’t battled with insonmia yet but will pass these tips to my friends and family.

    7 years ago •

  1. Angelisha

    Good to know this will share the article ! Milk works for me !

    7 years ago •

  1. Blazezn

    Ive always just been a poor sleeper, takes at least an hour JUST to fall asleep, and never can have a full nights sleep.. unless drunk ;o)

    7 years ago •

  1. BeautyBloggess

    I’ve stopped drinking caffeine after 4pm (coke included). It’s made such a difference.

    7 years ago •

  1. Tasha

    A glass of warm milk always did it for me.

    7 years ago •

  1. Antoinette Naidoo

    Thanks for the tips I often have trouble sleeping

    7 years ago •

  1. Maddy

    I don’t have insomnia but some tips in the article are great even when one feels stressed and unsettled.

    7 years ago •

  1. Crystal

    very good article……….will share this with my other half who battles to sleep………

    7 years ago •

  1. Sam

    I don’t often have this problem but will keep these tips handy just in case.

    7 years ago •

  1. Le Noir Pearl

    After 11 I’m reading this article and I’m not sleeping. Second night in a row. If it gets worse I take Periactin although I’ll woke up very hungry

    7 years ago •

  1. Botes

    I watch tv before going to bed, explains allot!!!

    7 years ago •

  1. Debsie

    for the last two weeks If been sleeping very bad. No trouble go to sleep, but up every hour

    7 years ago •

  1. honey_child

    I have been battling with insomnia for a the past few days..will try some of these solutions.

    7 years ago •

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