Taking a prescription sleep aid may seem like the simplest solution to a sleepless night —but medications have drawbacks. Side effects can include next-day grogginess, confusion, delayed reaction times, sleepwalking and sleep-eating, and dependency.
For those reasons, Virtua pulmonologist and sleep specialist, Rohit Malik, MD, only recommends medications to patients as a last resort. Before picking up his prescription pad, he suggests the following for people struggling to get a good night's sleep.
Find out why you are sleepless
Poor sleep habits, caffeine, nicotine use, alcohol use, prescription medications or chronic medical conditions, mood disorders, stress or anxiety all contribute to insomnia. "In some cases, two sleep disorders can exist at the same time, like obstructive sleep apnea or restless legs. Treatment of these disorders is essential for symptoms of sleeplessness to resolve completely," says Dr. Malik.
Learn best bedroom practices
Reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex. This means no computer, no cell phone, no TV. It may take getting used to, but a dark room with no distractions is essential for restful sleep. If you find that white noise relaxes you, consider listening to relaxation music before going to bed.
Watch what you drink
Don't drink water two hours before bed to reduce nighttime trips to the bathroom and avoid caffeine six to eight hours before bedtime. Avoid alcohol altogether if sleep is a struggle for you. Alcohol induces sleepiness initially but disrupts your sleep architecture. This means you likely will wake up in the middle of the night or feel less alert the next morning.
Consider natural supplements
One over-the-counter supplement that Dr. Malik recommends for some patients is melatonin. "Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted by a gland in the body that modulates sleep. Taking this supplement would have very few side effects," he says.
Consider seeing a psychologist
Cope with insomnia by using proven techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation therapy. With help from a psychologist you can cope with racing thoughts and create positive associations with your bedtime routine.
Now ... pull up those covers up and sweet dreams.