Whether it’s trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep or both, most of us have had some experience with insomnia. It also can become more of a problem as we age. People over 65 suffer more from sleep difficulties, the Sleep Foundation reports.
Sleep problems may also signal an underlying disorder such as anxiety or depression, or another medical condition. Sometimes, too, the primary cause of sleeplessness isn’t obvious, even though your quality of life is suffering. (Never delay in consulting a mental health provider for a diagnosis.)
4 Ways to Manage Insomnia and Improve Sleep
The good news is that there are things you can do to start sleeping better. The following tools may help.
High-intensity exercise in the late afternoon or early evening reduces levels of the wakefulness neurotransmitter orexin, according to research cited by the Sleep Foundation. That in turn increases drowsiness and promotes sounder sleep. Examples of high-intensity exercise include running, climbing stairs, and indoor cycling (“spin” bike classes)— activities that raise your heart rate and cause you to break a sweat.
Bedtime story apps and podcasts work by creating a boring or pleasant diversion from the anxious chatter of one’s thoughts. Apps like Slumber help users settle into bed with a relaxing exercise, followed by a story told in one of several calming voices. (You can choose which voice you like most.) Unlike other paid-subscription sleep apps, Slumber offers a whole section of free stories and meditations conducive to sleep.
Regularly updated podcasts like “Bore you to sleep,” “I Can’t Sleep Podcast,” and “Boring Books for Bedtime” provide still more free bedtime stories for adults. If you’re someone who gets bored with the same, unchanging selection of boring stories, rest assured that you won’t ever get bored.
Many people find these apps and podcasts help them fall asleep at the start of the night or fall back to sleep after waking during the night. The experience of being read to at bedtime may even recreate the sense of safety and calm that many experienced as children when read to at bedtime by their parents.
A breathing or mindfulness meditation before bed can calm the nervous system, reduce anxiety, and relax body and mind. When used as a pre-sleep ritual, it can encourage sleepiness and hasten sleep.
Sleep meditations have become so popular that there are a multitude of options, including apps that employ ambient sounds and other-worldly affirmations for sleep. Like most things, what works well for one person may not work well for the next. Many people find that within 15-20 minutes of uninterrupted focus on the rise and fall of their own breath in a dark, quiet room, they start to nod off.
These tools may require some experimentation to discover what combination of things works best for the individual. For example, some people find they get a better night’s sleep after a vigorous run, whereas others swear by an aerobics class. Some people may notice that they wake up in the middle of the night to a podcast that is on a continuous loop; but when they turn this feature off, they get a full night of uninterrupted sleep. A little tweaking and experimenting with these tools may be enough to start sleeping better.