Though all the sleep-aid ads you see might suggest otherwise, the truth is that money can't buy you sleep.
Sleep experts frequently warn that medications might help in the short-run, but they don't do much to get at the root causes of insomnia. Improperly used, they can even cause rebound insomnia, making your misery worse.
Still, 60 million prescriptions for sleep-inducing drugs were filled last year — up from 47 million in 2006. As a nation we spend around $7 billion a year on sleeping pills. Yet as many as a quarter of us, depending on how you measure it, have trouble regularly getting a decent night's sleep. Little wonder the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have labeled sleeplessness "a public health epidemic."
But there is a growing consensus among experts that there are some simple, nonmedical solutions to our national sleep problem that are safe and inexpensive.
What's the catch? They require behavioral changes, and some are more difficult than others. Some may be impossible for you. Still, see how many you can manage — I've found that even a few changes can lead to a better night's sleep.
You can find them yourself online, but here is a "Top Ten" list I've compiled from my own search that may save you some time:
1. Get moving! Exercise for at least 30 minutes per day.
2. Cut the caffeine.
3. Eat healthy food, and don't eat for a couple of hours before bed.
4. Disconnect from the screen before bedtime. Explore some sacred writings or lose yourself in a great story.
5. Adjust temperature, noise and light levels as much as possible.
6. Dedicate your bedroom to sleep. Work and play somewhere else.
7. Boot the dog from your bed.
8. Don't ruminate or brood before bed if you can help it — and you can.
9. Meditate or pray before you turn in.
10. Be grateful. Develop the bedtime habit of gratitude.
I've test-driven all of the above and I can say that, taken together, they offer a powerful arsenal of sleep aids.
I can't always follow through on No. 3. No. 7 is onerous, but does help. But by far the most powerful for me are the last three. If you have trouble with No. 8, move on to 9 and 10. You'll find help there.
Stress and anxiety are major causes of sleeplessness for most of us. Meditation, prayer, the reading of sacred texts, or just the simple act of being grateful for what you have and what is going well in your life, all have an observable calming effect that can be just as effective, safer and cheaper than pharmaceutical solutions.
I don't believe calming your thought requires belief in a specific deity, just the intuitive sense that there is an accessible source of peace outside of and not dependent on any human condition or solution.
Bob Clark is a Christian Science practitioner from Belleair. Read his blog at simplyhealthyflorida.com.