Beyond Ambien: 5 Tips for Better, Natural Sleep

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Reader’s Question

I would like to hear your comments on things I can do to help me sleep. I was given Ambien for a sleep disorder and became hooked on it for years. I have finally gotten off the Ambien after a year of intensive therapy, but I am still struggling to sleep. At times I sleep extremely well, but then I will have a few days when I just cannot sleep although I feel physically tired. I have tried exercise, meditation, yoga — pretty much everything — and I really would like to find out what the issue is. I currently live in Romania, and we have no sleep disorder specialists here, making it more difficult to try to get to the bottom of the problem.

Would hypnosis be the next thing I should try? Any other suggestions?

Psychologist’s Reply

Sleep disturbances come in many varieties and can be caused or exacerbated by a myriad of conditions both medical and psychiatric. Problems that significantly affect sleep can range from snoring and sleep apnea to depression and/or anxiety. So, even if there’s not a sleep specialist in your area, it’s best to consult with a physician.

I am not an authority on sleep disturbances, nor would it be possible to give you direct advice on this issue. However, sleep experts agree on several measures all of us can take to help ensure regular sleeping patterns:

Keep a fairly regular routine, and most especially a regular bedtime.
Sleep routines are always enhanced when we maintain a fairly regular sleeping/waking “cycle.” That means having meals at regular times, winding down activities at or near the same time every evening, and getting to bed at around the same hour.
Help ensure a comfortable sleeping environment.
Sleeping in a bed that is large enough and has the right mattress firmness is essential. So is sleeping in a room that is free of distracting sounds, is well-ventilated and maintains a pleasant temperature, and is sufficiently dark to promote sleep.
Manage stress and anxiety during the day.
It’s hard to sleep with worries or other concerns on your mind before bedtime. Take the time to de-stress during the day so that when bedtime comes, you’ll be free of mental distraction.
Maintain a healthy diet and exercise schedule.
Vigorous exercise makes it much easier to fall asleep. Some foods (especially greasy and gassy foods) can cause gastrointestinal distress that can interrupt sleep. Avoid caffeine and too much liquid in the few hours just preceding sleep. Foods that contain tryptophan can actually facilitate sleep. Some herbal (non-caffeinated) teas can facilitate relaxation and more restful sleep.
Don’t let interrupted sleep become too upsetting.
Learn to accept that sleep interruptions sometimes happen. Develop a routine (like reading in bed during awake times) that helps you keep calm, stay relaxed, and makes it more likely you can return to sleep.

A good night’s rest is often never appreciated more than when someone has had the misfortune to have sleeping difficulties. Hopefully, the suggestions above will help you in your quest for a good night’s sleep.

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