Put an End to Sleeplessness: Tips for Curing Insomnia

Health risks associated with sleeplessness are serious. Try these tricks to cure your insomnia

Credit: Flickr / Alyssa L. Miller

Consistently missing an hour or two of sleep can create a harmful sleep debt

Do you spend most nights tossing and turning in your bed only to wake up exhausted the next morning? You’re not alone. At least 13% of Canadians struggle with insomnia in the form of fitful sleep, night wakefulness or difficulty falling asleep

It’s estimated that the health problems associated with insomnia cost the Canadian economy up to $20 billion a year.

Negative Effects of Insomnia

The most obvious impact of lack of sleep is fatigue, but the cumulative health risks associated with sleeplessness are far more serious. Chronic lack of sleep:

  • Affects concentration and mental performance at work or school.
  • Decreases physical reaction time, putting you at higher risk for being in an accident, either on the job or in your car (driving drowsy is a form of impairment).
  • Increases blood pressure, potentially leading to the development of chronic hypertension.
  • Can be a contributing factor in the development of headaches.
  • Puts you at increased risk for developing anxiety disorder or depression.
  • Can lead to problems with excess weight accumulation and obesity by increasing the levels of appetite-inducing hormones.
  • Depresses the immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness (sleep plays a critical role in healing and re-energizing the body).

Problematic sleeplessness may not involve entire nights spent lying awake. Consistently missing an hour or two of sleep can create a “sleep debt” that’s just as harmful.

There are many causes of insomnia, but known contributing factors include heavy use of alcohol or cannabis, irregular (shift work) schedules, pain, chronic conditions and stress.

5 Steps to Better Sleep

If you aren’t getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night, make some changes to your sleep habits to reset your internal clock.

  1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends.
  2. Create a bedtime ritual (e.g., have a bath followed by 20 minutes of reading before lights out).
  3. Save your bedroom for sleep (no TV). Create a restful environment that’s cool, comfortable and dark.
  4. Don’t eat a meal before bed. Eat a light snack (warm milk and cheese and crackers) earlier, if needed.
  5. Turn away from the clock and try to relax. If you’re still awake after 30 minutes, get up and sit quietly in another room to read or meditate before going back to bed.

Avoid stimulants such as caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate), alcohol, tobacco and decongestants, especially late in the day. Also, increase your level of physical activity but avoid vigorous exercise within four hours of going to bed. If insomnia persists, talk to your doctor.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.