Robert Ballard, MD, director of Denver's Sleep Disorders Center at National Jewish Medical and Research Center, says the majority of patients he and his colleagues see have spent years—and hundreds of dollars—on pharmacological and herbal remedies for sleeplessness. Although these approaches work for some people, they clearly don't cure everyone; the Sleep Disorders Center remains busy with desperate patients.
If you are chronically sleepy, you cannot expect to improve your sleep with a quick fix, says Ballard. Having researched and treated sleep disorders for almost 20 years, he asserts without hesitation, "Behavioral interventions are the most effective approach." If you suspect you have insomnia, Ballard suggests trying these tips to train your brain and your body for restful sleep.
1. Limit bedroom activities to sleep and sex. Don't use the bedroom to read, watch television, or work.
2. Before you go to your bedroom to sleep, spend 15 to 45 minutes relaxing by engaging in a comfortable ritual: reading, soaking in a warm bath, listening to music.
3. Create an atmosphere in your bedroom that is conducive to sleeping: low lights or darkness, a humidifier for dry climates, a comfortable temperature, and a good sleep surface.
4. Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine (after noon), chocolate (six hours prior to bedtime), and strenuous exercise (four hours before bedtime).
5. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
6. If you cannot fall asleep after 15 minutes or so—despite deep breathing, progressive relaxation, or comforting imagery—leave your bed to go relax again. In a softly lit room, read another chapter of your book or listen to soft music—whatever it takes to make you sleepy again.