Health & Fitness

Sleep will come faster when you don't fight it

One of the big problems that hits around age 50 is not getting enough sleep. It's a fact that we boomers need less sleep at this stage of our lives, but many of us suffer from insomnia, frequent wake-ups during the night, or the need for a lot of bathroom stops that interrupt our sleep.

Some rely on sleeping medications that make the brain groggy for hours after starting the day; others get irritable because they haven't been able to get enough sleep.

I finally figured out how to get a good night's rest, by analyzing what was keeping me from the sleep I needed. I've shared these solutions with friends, and they seem to work for them as well. Now it's time to share them with you, so you, too, can get the sleep you need.

One of the biggest reason boomers have insomnia is that they fight sleep without realizing it. You want to finish a few chapters of the book you're reading, or watch the end of that TV program, or finish the cleaning you've been trying to get done all day.

While you are doing these things, you're pushing sleep away instead of welcoming it. The sleepytime signal your brain sends is very subtle and easy to ignore. But, you ignore it at your peril. Having forced yourself to stay awake, the urge to sleep may stay away and not return. Pay attention, so that when you feel that mental slight prompt to go to bed, you do so immediately.

Another reason sleep may not come is panic. It often starts after one or two nights of insomnia. The next night, you start stressing about being able to drop off.

You're so worried about being able to sleep, so stressed about it, that your mind is in an uproar.

Very often, the thing we worry about most is exactly what happens, just because it's all that we're thinking about.

Stop stressing about being able to sleep and just read a book or newspaper while you're waiting to feel sleepy. Don't even think about not being able to sleep. Keep your mind calm instead of fighting to get to sleep, and very soon you'll be able to put the reading material down, turn off the light, and conk out.

Another reason for sleep problems is that you get yourself all revved up before bedtime. Watching an action film, reading an exciting mystery, even thinking about all the things you have to do the following day — it gets your adrenaline going. Adrenaline is the fight-or-flight hormone, basically an anti-sleep chemical.

Spend your pre-sleep period without allowing yourself to get stimulated. Don't surf the Web where interesting stories can arouse your emotions, don't watch action movies or read exciting books. Allow yourself to sit and breathe deeply while watching or reading dull stuff. Bore yourself to sleep.

Don't drink alcohol or a lot of water within two hours before bedtime. The alcohol may make you feel sleepy, but you'll wake up as soon as it wears off. The water will call for pit stops during the night. If you need liquid, a simple cup of strong chamomile tea will help you feel calm and sleepy. Add milk for an increased sleep aid.

Sometimes an antihistamine or cold medicine can make you drowsy. They can serve as a great sleep aid, but remember that these pills are still medicine, even though they don't require a prescription, so check with your doctor before using them to help you fall asleep.

Also, try a banana for a bedtime snack. Bananas contain tryptophan, the same nutrient found in turkey meat that makes you sleepy after a meal of turkey.

And the best piece of advice: convince yourself that you will fall asleep and stay asleep until morning.

Make yourself believe it, and to your surprise, sleep will no longer be a problem.