Q. Besides taking sleep medication, what else can I do to relieve my insomnia?
A. First of all, taking prescription sleep aid medication is typically only effective for the short term. Over the long haul, as you know from the article above, taking prescription medication for falling asleep can disturb your sleep stages throughout the night, may cause daytime sleepiness, and may have negative effects on your overall health.
The primary step to solving a sleep issue is to make sure to create healthy sleep habits. Your bed is for sleeping and intimacy only, so don’t read or watch TV or surf the Internet in bed. Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, dark, peaceful environment. If you awake during the night, don’t stay in bed. Get up and do something you find relaxing, whether that means reading, meditating, or having a cup of decaffeinated tea.
Secondly, there are a number of holistic options for insomnia – including Tai chi, a graceful, slow form of exercise which originated in China, which combines breathing with flowing movements. A UCLA study reported in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society had some participants practicing Tai chi 2 hours per week while other participants learned healthy sleep habits and participated in low-impact exercise. The group of people who practiced Tai chi saw a 63% improvement in quality of sleep, while the group learning healthy sleep habits had a 32% improvement in sleep quality. This suggests that although low impact exercise improves how well you sleep, Tai chi may help above and beyond what we expect for exercise. (Sleep quality includes how quickly people fall asleep, how well they sleep and how long they sleep and how easily they wake up.)
In support of the idea that Tai chi may help with sleep even more than just routine exercise, a study reported in a 2008 issue of Sleep had 112 participants, with half of them practicing Tai chi for 25 weeks and the other half received healthy sleep education. The people doing Tai chi saw a significant improvement in sleep quality while the group learning healthy sleep habits experienced a slight improvement in sleep quality.