6 Ways To Overcome Insomnia According To A Brain Surgeon
It’s happening again. Your eyes are closed but your mind is sprinting through all the things you still have to do. Has it been a minute? An hour? You check the clock — time is running out until you have to jump back into action. You toss, you turn, and before you know it you’re peeling yourself from bed, groggy eyed and foggy brained, desperate for the first of many espressos to get you though the day.
Insomnia is no joke — whether it’s chronic or conditional, not getting enough high-quality sleep nightly can effect your well being on every level. Imprpoving your pre-bedtime habits can help you get into a better, natural rhythm and boost your ability to be present, engaged, creative, energized and balanced overall.
We’re loving this advice from Dr. Rahul Jandial, a brain surgeon and neuroscientist whose brand new book, Neurofitness: A Brain Surgeon’s Secrets to Boost Performance and Unleash Creativity shares his findings from years of research from various fields (surgery, science, brain structure, the conscious mind) and applies them to everyday life. Commit to implementing these tips for a few weeks and see how quickly everything can change for the better…
What do you do if you or a loved one has insomnia? Some people buy a bottle of cold medicine and take a couple shots. But over-the-counter drugs containing an antihistamine work only to initiate sleep; they don’t help you stay asleep through the night. More importantly, they are not recommended — and do not work — as a treatment for chronic insomnia.
Neither does a glass (or three) of wine before bed. At most, alcohol is a sleep initiator. A night cap is not going to help establish deep, restful sleep. So what do the sleep experts recommend? A detailed list of do’s and don’ts is found on the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
6 Ways To Overcome Insomnia
I struggle with insomnia myself, so from the AASP’s exhaustive list, here are some of their recommendations I find most effective and why.
KEEP A CONSISTENT SLEEP SCHEDULE | Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations. This will help you stay in that circadian rhythm that sets an internal clock for falling asleep. I only follow this recommendation partially, because I’d rather stay up late — and sleep in late — on weekends. But I try to log the same total hours of sleep on the weekend as during the week, or often more.
AVOID CAFFEINE IN THE AFTERNOON OR EVENING | Caffeine can stay in your system for ten to twelve hours, so I would say early afternoon is a better cutoff if you are struggling with insomnia. On non-surgery days, where I’ll occasionally have coffee, it’s never after midday.
IF YOU DON’T FALL ASLEEP AFTER TWENTY MINUTES, GET OUT OF BED | This is a reasonable recommendation. You definitely don’t want to toss and turn indefinitely. So I agree that if it’s getting close to a half hour and you aren’t drifting off, you should consider getting up. But if you do get up, do something mellow and keep the lights dim.
USE YOUR BED ONLY FOR SLEEP AND SEX | Well, only is a strong word, but the general principle here is good. When I have run out of movies or shows to watch on my laptop, I do like to read in bed at the end of the day. But, if I’m struggling with insomnia, I even skip reading in bed because of the light exposure, even on an e-reader. Then my go-to move is to listen to a podcast with the lights off, and, of course, it’s got to be something my wife can tolerate.
LIMIT EXPOSURE TO BRIGHT LIGHT IN THE EVENINGS | There is no question that nighttime exposure to light disrupts the induction of sleep. Most of the rooms in my own home have a dimmer, and I start turning the lights down around 8 pm every evening.
TURN OFF ELECTRONIC DEVICES AT LEAST THIRTY MINUTES BEFORE BEDTIME | The hardest recommendation of all to follow. For me, I have to admit, my phone is the last thing I look at each night and the first thing I pick up each morning. I do give myself a “digital sunset” by placing the phone on “night mode” after 8 pm That way my teenager, who is increasingly out and about at night, can always get to me. And my neurosurgical colleagues and I always keep our phones on for emergencies that may require some backup.
Despite a long-standing and pervasive notion that one cannot catch up on sleep, new research shows that you can, which fits with my experience. And while the bodily stress endured from nearly a decade of sleep deprivation has likely taken its toll on my health, this study is reassuring in that at least some of the health risks accrued were partially mitigated by those two-day off periods. Ultimately, weekends do work as an effective way to catch up on sleep, so protect both weekend mornings if you’re sleep-deprived during the week. I do.