Insomnia is a symptom, not a medical problem, says Katherine Albert, M.D., Ph.D., director of the sleep laboratory at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan and author of Get a Good Night's Sleep. It's a sign that something isn't working right for you, she says.
To sail smoothly into the land of Nod, Dr. Albert suggests trying one -- or all -- of the following:
1. Sleep in a comfortable bed. A firm mattress and pillow are best.
2. Make sure your bedroom is conducive to sleep. Most people sleep best in a room that's a bit cooler than normally desired when awake.
3. Take a bath. Think bubbles and candlelight.
4. Drink a glass of warm milk or a cup of herb tea. Milk is rich in calcium and l-tryptophan, which help your body prepare for sleep.
5. Do a relaxation exercise. Breathe deeply, listen to soothing music, or let your mind wander.
6. Do some light reading. Choose a book you can easily pick up and put down.
7. Say good night to your worries and shut the bedroom door on them. Literally. Or write them down and close the book on them; whatever it takes.
8. Make sure your last hour before bed is as peaceful as possible. Skip scary movies and save intense conversations for a better time.
9. Allow yourself to sleep -- or stay awake, if your body so chooses. In other words, don't try to force or control anything. You can't force sleep.
10. Get up after 30 minutes or so and do something you like or need to do. If you can't sleep, you may as well be productive.
Originally published in Better Homes & Gardens magazine, May 1997.