Insomnia Remedies


Insomnia Remedies

Natural ways to get the sleep you need.

By Suzanne Ridgway
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Nothing can ruin a good day like a bad night. The nurse’s life is full of situations that can spawn anxiety, the enemy of sleep, and yet it’s critically important to be at your best for your patients every day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it’s estimated that approximately 70 million Americans are affected by insomnia. It makes us cranky and stupid and non-productive. For nurses, lack of sleep can be downright dangerous. The pharmaceutical companies have found a goldmine here—sales of sleep medication are going through the roof.

But for those who don’t use pills except as a last resort, there are some simple lifestyle adjustments that may help to some degree, either singly or in combination. All the suggestions below are nothing more than changes in habit, purely natural substances, or activities to calm the mind and induce that much-coveted but elusive prize, a decent night’s sleep.


No caffeine, alcohol, or sugar

Obviously, stimulants like caffeine and sugar should be avoided in the evening or even late in the day, depending upon your personal tolerance. Experiment with what that personal limit is for you by cutting yourself off of coffee, sodas, and sweets at various times in the afternoon, to see if it makes a difference. Alcohol, while soothing initially, messes with the blood sugar levels and is, therefore, not good for staying asleep. Even that one glass of wine late in the evening might be the culprit that causes you to wake up later, and might need to be eliminated from your routine.

No television
This may be one of the tougher changes of habits, but sometimes a very helpful one. To give up all TV for at least a couple of hours before bedtime can be enormously beneficial. Read or spend time on a mellow craft project or some other peaceful activity. Especially avoid—like the plague—suspenseful shows like Deal or No Deal or 24. Tension is the enemy at bedtime. Don’t expect that you can get all pumped up watching someone else’s crisis and then relax. Even a regular dramatic show may be more activity than your brain needs if you want to be really drowsy by bedtime. So no Grey’s Anatomy either. (Really, don’t you get enough of doctors and hospitals already?) If you must, record it for your day off.

Nothing financial

Again, tension is the enemy. No paying bills in the evening, or working on anything budget-related, especially if there is not quite enough money to go around. To put that issue into the front of your brain near bedtime is just asking for trouble. Do the financial chores on your lunch hour or your day off, but not right before sleep.


If your nursing job has you on your feet all day, getting enough physical activity might not seem to be a problem, but harried scurrying does not have the same calming effect as an aerobic workout of some type. Some deep breathing and just “letting off steam” has its own benefits. The amount of exercise sufficient to facilitate sleep varies for different people and can be discovered through trial and error. Regardless of your preferred activity—time at the gym, laps in the pool, a dance class, or shooting hoops with the kids—find the amount that works as a sleep aid for you and try to stick with it on any day you can possibly manage it. No matter how busy you are, exercise is an investment that pays off in productivity the next day.

Yoga poses and breathing
A consistent yoga practice is fabulous for any number of conditions: for keeping the back strong, for general health, and also for insomnia. Even a gentle beginner’s class is enough of a calming workout, mentally and physically, to help me relax and sleep better that night. The “Bridge Pose” or “Setu Bandha Sarvangasana” is recognized as being a particularly good pose for combating insomnia. [See illustration at the Yoga Journal website: Be sure to get proper instruction in performing such a yoga pose, especially if you have problems such as a neck injury or high blood pressure.]

Yoga employs many special breathing techniques as well, some of which are especially designed to calm the mind. Pranayama is an important concept in yoga, the belief that life force rides on the breath and various ways of breathing can either energize or calm.

Rosie Good, Director of Yoga Bindu in San Pedro, recommends the breathing technique called Viloma Pranayama for insomnia. In a comfortable, relaxed position, fill your lungs with breath from the belly up, then release the breath in stages: first a little from the upper chest, pause; then a little from the middle chest; pause; and then the rest from the belly. Repeat until drowsy. This is only one method of breathing that can be very soothing to the mind and body.

Find an experienced yoga teacher who can instruct you in proper techniques in both poses (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama) and you may be amazed at how calming the practice can be.

Chamomile tea
Although there are many natural substances touted as being helpful for insomnia, such as valerian or passionflower, chamomile tea is a very common and easily found substance, available in any grocery store, that is very soothing. I prefer the pure chamomile tea, rather than those that blend other herbs and flavorings with the chamomile. A short, strong, hot cup of chamomile tea right before bed will usually induce drowsiness. You do want to keep it a short cup, though, to keep liquid intake to a minimum. Staying asleep is just as important as getting to sleep.

Ear plugs, white noise
Too much noise anytime can be annoying, but noise at night while trying to sleep is incredibly frustrating. Even if all other conditions are perfect, intermittent traffic, the neighbor’s dog barking, or other city and suburban sounds can keep one up even in the face of pure exhaustion. Creating as much of a soundproof cocoon as possible helps guarantee the other efforts to coax sleep won’t have been in vain.

For double protection, use earplugs and a fan for white noise, or other machines that create a variety of soothing sounds to mask disturbing ones. The cadence of a rainfall or waves rolling gently onto the beach can be created in your bedroom and will block out low-level noise outside the house. Tuba practice next door probably won’t be eliminated, but some defense can be made against the everyday stuff.

Read something boring

It may not be enough to read something pleasant in order to relax at bedtime. You may have to pull out the heavy artillery and read something really boring. For me, it’s Ralph Waldo Emerson, but any dull, tedious nursing text that you have lying around can be useful here.

Try some of these techniques and habits in the spirit of scientific inquiry to see what works for you. Of course, if you continue to be plagued by insomnia that interferes with your daily activities, it might be time to see your doctor. Hopefully, though, finding a way to ratchet down the tension of the day will open the door to blissful, refreshing slumber. And that will make you ready to deal with the next day’s patients, doctors, and assorted everyday crises with all the efficiency, compassion, and skill you know you’re capable of.

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