How to cure insomnia

ALEXANDRA CAIN
Last updated 14:24 14/02/2014

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My eyes flicker open. I'm wide awake. It's 3.28am. Oh well, I guess that's better than 1.28am. The chance of me getting back to sleep is zero. So my habit is just to get up and start working. Laying around in bed, to my mind, is just a waste of time.

Such is the life of the insomniac.

When I talk to business owners one of the most frequent topics of conversation is sleeplessness. We can't get to sleep, and when we do finally drop off we can't stay asleep. It's so frustrating sometimes it will have us in tears.

Most of us know the drill about setting ourselves up for a good night's sleep - don't drink coffee before bed, use your bedroom only for sleeping, don't bring digital devices with you ... The list goes on. I do all these things, but it doesn't solve my insomnia.

So for me, the real question is what can I do to get back to sleep once I wake up? There's no magic solution, but here are my ideas.

1. Don't fret

It might be easier said than done, but Good Price Pharmacy Warehouse naturopath Michael Jeffrey says if you find that you can fall asleep initially but wake in the night and can't drift off again, don't lie there fretting about it.

Jeffrey says natural supplements including chamomile, lemon balm, valerian, hops and passionflower might help as they address the symptoms of both anxiety and insomnia.

"Melatonin is recognised as a sleep aid but you should speak to a naturopath or GP before taking it," he says.

2. Write down what's worrying you

Rhett Morris, who runs workplace behaviour firm Bulletproof People, says if you have thoughts swirling around in your head, write them down.

"If you're worried about the day to come, make a list of action points - manage your expectations of yourself, others and situations. White noise also works for some, so try turning on a fan or playing light music," says Morris.

3. Deep breathing or relaxation techniques

This - sometimes - works for me. I have a few techniques. I'll try to relax every part of my body, starting from the toes upwards. If this works, I can be asleep before I get to my head.

I will also try counting backwards from 100 or simply focusing on my breathing and nothing else. At the very least, these practices will help to distract you from worrying about not sleeping.

4. Get up

Jeffrey says if you haven't gone back to sleep within 15 minutes of waking, get up and do something. "Read a book or listen to some quiet music," he says.

That's my preferred strategy. I've come to the conclusion my standard wake-up time is about 5am. I've basically accepted it. So I don't lie there any more - I just get up. I also go to bed really early, so I generally do get eight hours' sleep.

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5. Don't get up

I realise this one sounds contradictory to the last one, but if I wake up, sometimes it helps if I try not to stir myself too much. This means not opening my eyes and not moving. Definitely don't look at the clock. Occasionally I will go back to sleep if I try this.

But whatever you try, says Morris, the biggest frustration for insomniacs is there is no silver-bullet solution.

"The best approach is to use a combination of different ideas and form quality habits," he says.

"Insomnia can be a cause of many significant issues in our digestive, cardiovascular, nervous and immunity systems.

"If symptoms persist, consult your GP. But be wary of sleeping tablets becoming part of a long-term solution. In the short term they may help break a cycle but long-term use may result in dependence or addiction."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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