Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 1999;59(7):1918

See related article on insomnia.

This handout describes some simple things that you can do to help your insomnia. Follow these tips each night. Don't be worried if it takes a week or two before you can tell a difference.

Be sure to talk to your doctor about your sleep problem. Insomnia can be caused by many medical conditions. Treating the medical condition may be necessary before you can sleep better. Your doctor may also prescribe medicine to help you sleep. These medicines can help, but they should only be used for a short time (less than 4 weeks).

Change your lifestyle to promote good sleep

  • Avoid caffeine, especially in the afternoon or evening. Coffee, cola and tea are obvious sources of caffeine. Caffeine may also “hide” chocolate, medicines, diet pills and soft drinks

  • Avoid alcohol before bedtime. Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it will make you wake up again later on in the night.

  • Avoid tobacco and any other stimulating drugs at bedtime. Ask your doctor if any of the medicines you take may be causing sleep problems.

  • Exercise regularly. However, avoid exercising within three or four hours before you go to bed.

  • Try eating a light snack before bedtime, such as crackers and milk. But don't eat a heavy meal close to bedtime.

Improve your sleep environment

  • Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool, but not cold. Keep the bedroom dark and quiet. Be sure your mattress is comfortable.

Slow down your mind at bedtime

  • Many people find it hard to “turn off their mind” at bedtime. If this happens to you, gently remind yourself that you can think about these things tomorrow. Then set the thoughts aside. You may have to try this several times before your mind quiets down.

  • Setting up a special time early in the evening to worry and think may keep you from doing it at bedtime.

Follow these rules for healthy sleep

  1. Don't go to bed until you're sleepy. There's no point in going to bed if your body isn't ready to sleep yet. You can't make yourself fall asleep.

  2. Don't use the bed for anything except sleeping. Don't read, worry, eat, watch television or do anything else in bed (sex is okay). The bed is for sleeping.

  3. If you're not asleep after about 20 minutes, leave the bedroom. Do something relaxing and return to bed when you're sleepy.

  4. Repeat step 3 as many times as needed. Soon you will get into bed and fall asleep within 20 minutes.

  5. Get up at the same time every day.

  6. Don't take naps.

Steps 5 and 6 will help make sure you're sleepy at bedtime. If you follow these tips and your insomnia doesn't get better, be sure to tell your doctor.

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