Sleep patterns are often learned as children. When we repeat these patterns over many years, they become habits.
Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. In many cases, you can relieve insomnia by making a few simple lifestyle changes. But, it may take some time if you have had the same sleep habits for years.
How Much Sleep is Enough?
People who have insomnia are often worried about getting enough sleep. The more they try to sleep, the more frustrated and upset they get, and the harder it becomes to sleep.
- While 7 to 8 hours a night is recommended for most people, children and teenagers need more.
- Older people tend to do fine with less sleep at night. But they may still need about 8 hours of sleep over a 24-hour period.
Remember, the quality of sleep and how rested you feel afterward is as important as how much sleep you get.
Change Your Lifestyle
Before you go to bed:
- Write down all the things that worry you in a journal. This way, you can transfer your worries from your mind to paper, leaving your thoughts quieter and better suited for falling asleep.
During the day:
- Be more active. Walk or exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days.
- Do not take naps during the day or in the evening.
Stop or cut back on smoking and drinking alcohol. And reduce your caffeine intake.
If you are taking any medicines, diet pills, herbs, or supplements, ask your health care provider about the effects they may have on your sleep.
Find ways to manage stress.
- Learn about relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery, listening to music, or practicing yoga or meditation.
- Listen to your body when it tells you to slow down or take a break.
Change Your Bedtime Habits
Your bed is for sleeping. Do not do things like eat or work while in bed.
Develop a sleep routine.
- If possible, wake up at the same time each day.
- Go to bed around the same time every day, but not more than 8 hours before you expect to start your day.
- Avoid beverages with caffeine or alcohol in the evening.
- Avoid eating heavy meals at least 2 hours before going to sleep.
Find calming, relaxing activities to do before bedtime.
- Read or take a bath so that you do not dwell on worrisome issues.
- Do not watch TV or use a computer near the time you want to fall asleep.
- Avoid activity that increases your heart rate for the 2 hours before going to bed.
- Make sure your sleep area is quiet, dark, and is at a temperature you like.
If you cannot fall asleep within 30 minutes, get up and move to another room. Do a quiet activity until you feel sleepy.
When to Call the Doctor
Talk to your provider if:
- You are feeling sad or depressed
- Pain or discomfort is keeping you awake
- You are taking any medicine that may be keeping you awake
- You have been taking medicines for sleep without talking to your provider first
Insomnia - sleep habits; Sleep disorder - sleep habits; Problems falling asleep; Sleep hygiene
American Academy of Sleep Medicine website. Insomnia - overview and facts. sleepeducation.org/essentials-in-sleep/insomnia. Updated March 4, 2015. Accessed April 9, 2020.
Chokroverty S, Avidan AY. Sleep and its disorders. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 102.
Edinger JD, Leggett MK, Carney CE, Manber R. Psychological and behavioral treatments for insomnia II: implementation and specific populations. In: Kryger M, Roth T, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 86.
Vaughn BV, Basner RC. Sleep disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 377.
Review Date 4/9/2020
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.