Racing thoughts, fears, and worries can keep anyone awake at night, but for those with chronic insomnia, the mind can be your worst nightmare. The harder you try to think yourself to sleep, the more wakeful you become. While cognitive behavioral therapy and other mental strategies for insomnia work, they take time, patience, and perseverance to master. Fortunately, there's a quick, effective solution when the mind prevents shuteye: using the body to help you sleep. In fact, the body has enormous power to quell the mind and allow you to slip into a peaceful, restful slumber. Try these seven tips and see how your body may hold the key to a good night's sleep.
Exercise with Moderate Intensity and Good Timing
Studies have shown that moderate aerobic exercise, which releases relaxation-promoting endorphins, helps people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. But any form of body exercise can help with insomnia. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day and pay attention to timing. According to the National Sleep Foundation, afternoon workouts may be best for overcoming insomnia, since body temperature rises for several hours after exercise and then decreases, alerting the body that it's time for sleep.
Engage the Belly When Your Breathe
Deep breathing has been proven to put you in a state of relaxation that induces sleep. Just make sure you know how to breathe correctly for results. Engaging the body's abdominal or belly muscles is crucial. You might repeat long, slow diaphragmatic breaths or try the 4-7-8 method, where you breathe in from the belly for four seconds, hold for seven, and exhale for eight. Belly breathing brings natural calm, plus it creates a distraction for your mind as you concentrate on your breath.
Treat Body Discomfort
Lying in bed in pain is no way to ease the mind into sleep. If you have any body discomfort, whether it's a backache, muscle strain, or stiffness, be sure to treat it before you climb into bed. Medications can help with pain relief but consider yoga or stretching at night for a drug-free solution. Yoga can be especially helpful for insomnia because it calms both the body and the mind. Do your stretching and posing within an hour of bed to help you wind down and prepare for sleep.
Keep the Body Properly Nourished for Sleep
Does a rumbling stomach keep you up at night? If you go to bed hungry — or full for that matter — your prospects for a restful night can be diminished. Instead, try to eat meals early enough in the evening to give your stomach time to digest the food but not too early that you're raiding the fridge at 10 pm. When hunger strikes before bed, reach for a light, sleep-inducing snack, like yogurt, a handful of nuts, or a banana to keep your body properly nourished for sleep.
Warm Up the Body an Hour Before Bed
Taking a warm bath an hour or so before bed improves blood circulation from the body's core to the hands and feet, creating a sense of calm and boosting sleep quality. When you anticipate a night of insomnia, make a point to slip into the tub for a stress-reducing, sleep-promoting treat. Not a bath person? Warming up in the shower can be just as beneficial. Either way, you'll enjoy the warmth and tranquility of the experience as well as the aftereffects when you settle into bed.
Avoid Brain-Stimulating Movement in the Evening
Don't make the hours before bed the time you decide to clean the house, unpack boxes, or search for a missing item. Even light movement, especially if it stimulates the brain, can put the body in a state of heightened alert, which makes drifting off to sleep difficult. If you like to be occupied and productive in the evenings, opt for low-key, sedentary activities that help the body unwind. Work on a knitting project, do some light reading, or lounge on the couch with a coloring book.
Know the Body Eventually Wins
Your mind can trick you into thinking you'll never get to sleep. But the truth is, you will. While the mind is a force to be reckoned with, so is the body, and it has the final say. Even if you don't sleep on a given night, relief eventually comes and typically in short order. Just knowing you will get the rest your body needs can bring comfort--and sleep. In fact, sleep may be even deeper and more restful after bouts of insomnia as the body attempts to make up for lost nights.
Sleeplessness has many causes and solutions, but when insomnia is a matter of the mind, try turning to the body for help. You'll be amazed at how powerful a tool it is.