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Not everybody is blessed with the ability to always sleep well at night. Poor sleep, or insomnia, may be caused by medical factors such as pain, difficulty in breathing or weakness of the bladder. Poor sleep may also be caused by psychiatric illnesses such as anxiety, depression or psychosis. Poor sleep may result from jet lag, shift work or even advanced age. Finally, some persons sleep poorly for no evident reason. Here are a few suggestions on how to tackle insomnia without using sleeping pills.

During the day
Do not take a nap during the day unless doing so improves your quality of life. If you do so, accept that your night time sleep will be correspondingly shortened. Get some physical exercise on a regular basis, preferably in the morning. Regular exercise improves restful sleep. This includes walking, stretching and aerobic exercise. Note that while moderate physical fatigue can be relaxing, excessive fatigue may cause aches which can interfere with sleep.

Before bedtime
Taper your physical activity towards bedtime; otherwise, you will be too alert to sleep.

It's a healthy habit to have dinner at least two to three hours before bedtime. This will ensure that you don't have a full stomach when you sleep and also prevent acid reflux (heartburn). It is especially important to avoid stimulants such as chocolate, coffee, tea, cocoa and colas. However, a glass of warm milk or a carbohydrate snack just before retiring may help you feel sleepy.

Do not have a cold bath for one to two hours before retiring; this will make you more alert. Do not have a hot bath, either; your body needs to feel cool if you are to fall asleep. Bathing is itself a physical activity which may make you more active and alert.

Before bedtime, avoid debates, arguments or any social activity that makes you irritable or angry. However, casual conversation with a family member can be relaxing.

Avoid mental activity before retiring. Watching an engrossing TV program, playing chess or concentrating on any other task may make you more alert. However, this may not apply to activities that you consider work. For example, attending to your accounts or other paperwork may tire you enough to make you look forward to closing up and going to bed!

Donít think about emotionally disturbing matters. If you are tense, alert, or irritable, do something that is calming or relaxing in the five to 20 minutes before you retire. This includes meditating, praying, reading, pottering around the house or pursuing any other activity which helps you unwind. Such activities are a useful routine, but become especially important if you are keyed up.

Donít listen to loud, peppy music. Avoid exposure to bright lights and donít watch television for the 5-10 minutes or so before you retire. Bright lights will tend to make you more alert.

At bedtime
Keep regular bedtime hours. Although this may not always be practical, remember that your body likes regular routines. So pick a reasonable and regular time to go to bed each night and stick to it. Even if you don't think you are tired when the time comes, your body will appreciate it. After a while, when it feels it can rely on the routine, it will repay the favor by letting you go to sleep when you want.

Plan your day so that you can retire at about the same time every night. This will condition you to feeling sleepy at that time each night.

Retire only when you are tired; if you retire when you feel wide awake, you will toss and turn and find it hard to fall asleep. If you feel sleepy, retire soon; otherwise, your body will slowly become more alert, and you will find it harder to fall asleep. Preferably, sleep in the same place every night. This will help you get conditioned to feeling sleepy when you head for your bed. If you change your sleeping arrangements often, you may take time to adjust to the change before you begin to feel sleepy.

Reduce environmental stimulation in your sleep zone. Use minimum lighting (or none at all), avoid noise, disconnect your phone, and do whatever else is necessary to ensure that there is no disturbance. Some persons find it easier to fall asleep if there is soft music playing. Others find that music captures their attention and keeps them awake. If traffic noise, festival celebration, or other disturbances are inevitable, adopt an accepting attitude and let the sound recede into the background much as you would accept the sound of a ceiling fan. If you resent the sound, your anger and the attention that you pay to it will not allow you to sleep.

Ensure that your pillow and bed are comfortable. Ensure that you are sufficiently warm during winter, and adequately cool during summer. Take measures to minimize pests such as mosquitoes.

Identify bed with sleep. Do not work, read, watch television or work out crossword puzzles while lying in bed. If you can't sleep in 30 minutes, get out of bed. Don't lie awake trying to get sleep any longer than 30 minutes. Do something quiet and non-stimulating. When you feel tired, go back to bed.

If you wake up in the middle of the night and have to get up, avoid bright lights, too much physical activity, mental activity or anything that makes you alert.

Waking up
Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays. On the same lines, stick to the wake-up time irrespective of the length of time for which you slept. If you did not sleep well the previous night, the loss of sleep can make it easier for you to fall asleep the present night. However, if you sleep late into the morning, you will find it hard to sleep at night. Once you're awake, get moving. Don't lie in bed thinking about getting up.

Adopt stress-management and time-management strategies to reduce the anxiety or other emotional disturbances associated with your lifestyle. Likewise, take up hobbies, sports and recreational pursuits that help you unwind mentally and physically. Sleep well!

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