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Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep regularly, or awakening during sleep. Insomnia is a symptom that can be caused by a variety of conditions: psychological (chronic depression or temporary stress), environmental (noise) or physiological (temporary pain or chronic breathing disorder). An irregular sleeping schedule or drinking caffeinated beverages close to bedtime also can cause insomnia.

Insomnia Sleep Tips

Sleep is an integral part of life, but it's not always easy. Ninety-five percent of all Americans experience difficulty sleeping at some time in their lives. If you're having problems sleeping, or if you know someone who is, here are some helpful hints.

  • Don't oversleep – Sleep as much as you need to feel refreshed and healthy, but no more. You can't "catch up" on lost sleep.
  • Don't nap – If you've been having trouble going to sleep when you normally sleep, don't let yourself take naps—especially within a few hours of your regular bedtime.
  • Exercise – Regular exercise tends to be an effective aid for sleeping. Three to four weeks of regular physical exercise is required before you'll notice the positive benefits. Try to exercise in the late afternoon and avoid strenuous activity at least three hours before bedtime.
  • Snack – Hunger may disturb sleep; a light snack (less that 400 calories) may help you sleep. Milk, eggs, tuna, cottage cheese, soybeans, cashews, chicken and turkey make good bedtime snacks. These foods have a high concentration of L-tryptophan amino acid that helps you get to sleep. (Your last heavy meal should be at least two to four hours before sleep.)
  • Skip caffeine – Caffeine in the evening disturbs sleep. All coffee (even decaffeinated), most teas, chocolates and cola drinks contain caffeine.
  • Slow down – As the evening unfolds, you should unwind. If you have challenging, exacting work to complete, get it out of the way before you try to sleep.
  • Only one – A single glass of wine, beer or spirits has long been the basis of the traditional "nightcap." One drink may be the perfect relaxant for some people. Stop there, however. Too much alcohol could disturb your sleep.
  • Set your clock – Go to bed only when you are tired, but get up at the same time every day. Within a few weeks, your consistent morning wakings will result in a fairly regular bedtime.
  • Move around – If you've been laying in bed for 20 minutes and you're still not asleep, don't stay there getting upset. Get out of bed and do something that is relaxing or boring. Don't watch the clock. When you're too sleepy to stay awake any longer, return to bed.
  • Breathe deeply – Deep breathing can bring on drowsiness. Take a series of three slow, deep breaths exhaling fully after each other. Repeat until you are relaxed and asleep.
  • Sleeping pills – An occasional sleeping pill may be beneficial, but their regular use is ineffective for most people with insomnia.
  • Contact your physician – If you are still unable to fall asleep, can't stay asleep or sleep at night but constantly feel sleepy during the daytime, contact your physician. You may have a medical problem.
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