Can't Fall Asleep?

It’s nearly midnight in Apartment 3B, and Rose still cannot fall asleep, even though she went to bed at 10:30. When she finally drifts off, it is around 12:30 a.m. For the next few hours Rose will sleep lightly and poorly before her alarm goes off at 6:30, awakening her so she can get ready for work.

There are millions of people just like Rose. They do not share the delight of the prophet Jeremiah, who said, “I awoke and looked around. My sleep had been pleasant to me” (Jeremiah 31:26, NIV).*

The inability to get a good night’s sleep is a serious problem. Even one night of insufficient or restless sleep can result in irritability and inability to concentrate properly. Various studies indicate that establishing a chronic sleep debt can depress the immune system, causing greater susceptibility to illness and depression. And a lack of sleep can also be dangerous. The Department of Transportation estimates that up to 100,000 motor vehicle accidents a year occur because drivers become drowsy or fall asleep at the wheel. Yet, like any problem, sleep disorder can be managed and conquered. Here are a dozen ways to get a better night’s sleep.

1. Turn worries over to God.
Begin examining your sleep disturbance by asking if stress, anxiety, and worry are eroding your ability to rest. If this is the case, keep in mind the words of Psalm 127:2: “He grants sleep to those he loves” (NIV). The suggestion here is that God has the ability and desire to make your mind calm and tranquil while the world around is filled with anxiety and restlessness. Although others may be anxious, fretting, and worried, those who place their trust in God can sleep well.

Consider also these words from Jesus in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (NIV). Likewise, the apostle Peter reminds us: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you”(1 Peter 5:7, NIV).

2. Engage in regular exercise.
People who are inactive often have the greatest problem falling asleep simply because their bodies just aren’t tired. The power of exercise to promote better sleep was recently demonstrated in a study done by the Stanford University School of Medicine. Epidemiologist Abby C. King and her colleagues studied 29 women and 14 men, age 50 to 76, who were sedentary and free of cardiovascular disease, and who said they had trouble sleeping. The group underwent 30 to 40 minutes of low-impact aerobics or brisk walking four times a week for 16 weeks. The results: Those who exercised slept almost an hour longer each night and fell asleep in half the time it normally took. When exercising, however, don’t work out within three hours before going to bed, as it may stimulate the body rather than calm it down.

3. Review your medications.
Consult with your physician to determine whether your medications may be interfering with sleep. Common culprits include prescription diet pills containing amphetamine, some antidepressants, many asthma medications, cold preparations with pseudoephedrine, nasal decongestants, painrelievers containing caffeine, steroids, and some drugs for high blood pressure.

4. Conduct an examination of conscience.
The Bible offers this wisdom: “Preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight. . . . When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet” (Proverbs 3:21-24, NIV). An uneasy conscience easily robs us of sleep. Look at yourself honestly and ask whether some past deed or word is robbing you of the peace necessary to sleep well at night. If that is the case, confess your sin first to God and next to the injured party. Then do whatever you can to make amends.

5. Spend time with nature.
Take time to admire and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. Allow the majesty of God’s world to flood your soul and nourish your spirit. Several psalm writers had their vision of life expanded by an appreciation of God’s creation. One example is Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (NIV). Another example is Psalm 148:7-10: “Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, . . . you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds” (NIV).

6. Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
Contrary to popular belief, a nightcap will hurt more than it will help when it comes to sleeping well. Although alcohol can make you sleepy initially, it has a rebound effect. Once your body has metabolized the alcohol, you begin to awaken or sleep very lightly.

“It’s very important to have alcohol out of your system when you sleep,” says Dennis Hill, M.D., a neurologist who is medical director of the Sleep Disorders Clinic at University Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It is a sedative, but it fragments sleep and takes away the deep sleep, the dreaming sleep.”

Also, nicotine, which is found in tobacco products, contains a stimulant, often causing tobacco users to have difficulty falling asleep and to sleep more fitfully. Many ex-smokers testify that they fall asleep more quickly and wake less often during the night than when they had smoked.

7. Eliminate stimulants.
Caffeine consumed up to six hours before bedtime can play an inhibiting role when it comes to sleep. Caffeine, which is a drug, can remain in the bloodstream for up to 20 hours. So consider whether sipping coffee throughout the day is affecting your nights. Sleep disorder specialists recommend avoiding coffee, caffeinated sodas, and chocolate within four to six hours of bedtime.

8. Get out of bed.
Your bedroom should be reserved only for sleeping. If after 20 minutes or so you are unable to sleep, get up and leave the room. That advice is offered by Michael Bonnet, Ph.D., professor of neurology at Wright State University and director of the sleep laboratory at Dayton VA Hospital in Dayton, Ohio.

“What happens is that you begin to associate the bedroom with not sleeping, and that just compounds the problem,” Dr. Bonnet says. His recommendation is to do something sleep inducing–read a book, watch a dull television program. When you begin to feel drowsy, head back to the bedroom.

9. Plan a full day.
Researchers at Loughborough University in England discovered that people who are active during the day are more likely to have a restful sleep at night. They studied volunteers, who spent periods of four days in the sleep lab. On one of the four days the volunteers were sent to a distant city, where they shopped, went to a museum, visited an amusement park and a zoo, and watched a movie. Not surprisingly, that night the volunteers fell asleep earlier and had longer than usual periods of restful sleep. They also awoke feeling refreshed.

10. Try sleep restriction.
“Paradoxically, one of the best ways to get good sleep is to restrict the amount of time you spend in bed,” says James Perl, Ph.D., and author of Sleep Right in Five Nights: A Clear and Effective Guide for Conquering Insomnia. “Spend fewer hours in bed, and you will fall asleep faster and awaken less during the night. You’ll spend more time in the deep, restorative stages of sleep and less in the lighter stages.”

11. Block out distractions.
Light coming from open curtains or startling noises such as an airplane, automobiles, or a barking dog can quickly disrupt sleep. To block out excessive outdoor light, invest in some new, heavier curtains or blinds. A well-fitted sleeping mask is also helpful. For noise reduction, purchase some ear plugs or run a fan to mask potential sound disruptions.

12. Use visualization to relax your mind.
If you are feeling tense and anxious at bedtime, try eliminating those thoughts by creating a calming mental image to drive them away. Dr. Perl recommends developing mental images similar to these two:

Image I-You are lying on an air mattress in a tropical sea. The waves are gently lapping softly all around you. You feel the light, warm breeze on your skin.

Image II-You are walking down a curving staircase or riding down an escalator. As you descend, you sink deeper and deeper into relaxation. When you reach the bottom, doors open, and you walk into a beautiful, sunlit garden.

*Texts credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.