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I can’t sleep!

Sleep aids can help, but so can simple changes in your behavior and environment

Another sleepless night. You toss and turn, try to turn off your worries and force yourself to relax. As you fret about how miserable and inefficient you’ll be tomorrow, you just get more tense. Sometimes, even with your mind seemingly clear and relaxed, sleep just doesn’t come.

An estimated 40 percent of adults in the United States suffer from sleep disturbances each year; more than half of those lie awake at least a few nights a week.

Why is sleep important?

A lack of sleep leads to poor concentration, irritability, anxiety, depression and low energy. Sleep maintains your circadian rhythms, the 24-hour cycle that regulates your physical and mental functions. A good night’s sleep helps the brain commit information to memory.

If we get too little sleep, our brain won’t make and store enough mood-enhancing hormones for the next day. And, chronic sleep deprivation can cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.

Sleep aids and natural remedies can help

Prescription hypnotic drugs act in areas of the brain to help promote sleep. Sonata (zaleplon), for example, is designed to help you fall asleep faster, but not for keeping you asleep. Ambien (zolpidem) and Lunesta (eszopiclone) can help you both get to sleep and stay asleep. But such drugs don’t work for everyone, they are potentially addictive and they may not be safe for long-term use.

Non-prescription, “over-the-counter” (OTC) sleep aids can help, but may be less effective than prescription drugs.

Natural insomnia remedies used to promote sleep include:
  • California poppy, in tincture.
  • Valerian (a root that may be steeped in hot water for tea)
  • Hops (especially in combination with valerian.)
  • Melatonin (an artificial or animal form of a substance produced by humans that is linked to sleep)
  • Scents of lavender, vanilla or green apple.
  • Essential oils of Ylang ylang, chamomile, peppermint, eucalyptus, lemongrass and rose. To get the full effect, be sure to use true essential oils, which are 100% pure.

If you suffer from insomnia, sleep aids can help, but they’re not the only solution. You can make changes in your behavior and environment that can help you get to sleep and stay asleep.

Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

Learn to relax
  • Use guided imagery and meditation to relax with pleasant, nonstimulating images.
    Don’t lie in bed awake if you can’t get to sleep. Read or listen to music until you feel tired.
Create a sleep-friendly environment
  • Your body is cued to dusk. Dim the lights an hour or two before bedtime.
  • Avoid exposure to electronic devises. The light emitted from the screen tells your brain it’s time to be awake.
  • Sleep in a dark, quiet room with a comfortable temperature (60-65 degrees is best.).
  • Try using earplugs, a white noise machine or a humming fan to block out disruptive sounds.
  • Turn your bedside clock to face the wall and mask the LED lights of charging devices.
  • Increase your exposure to morning sunshine or very bright lights in the morning.
  • Sunlight helps the body’s internal biological clock reset itself each day and can help you to fall asleep at night.
  • Wind down just before bedtime with a relaxing pre-sleep ritual such as a warm bath, soft music, a relaxation tape or reading.
Maintain healthy habits
  • Eat a light bedtime snack combining carbs with a little protein, such as peanut butter on a piece of toast.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine in the four to six hours before bedtime.
  • Keep a regular sleep-wake cycle. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Avoid exercise within two hours of bedtime.
  • Don’t eat large meals within two hours of bedtime.
  • Don’t nap after 3 p.m.
Talk to your doctor

See a doctor if your sleeping problems continue. Persistent insomnia and feeling tired the next day could indicate a medical problem.


Ronald R Fieve Bipolar II
Ellen Frank, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) and co-author of one of the studies
National Sleep Foundation
National Institutes of Health
Patel, Sanjay R. 1; Malhotra, Atul 2,3; White, David P. 2,3; Gottlieb, Daniel J. 4; Hu, Frank B. 3,5,6 (2006) Association between Reduced Sleep and Weight Gain in Women, .American Journal of Epidemiology, 164:10

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