3 at-home sleep remedies that may be harmful and ineffective

A 2016 study claims that stress is ‘certainly one of the most prevalent contributors’. Picture: Pixels

A 2016 study claims that stress is ‘certainly one of the most prevalent contributors’. Picture: Pixels

Published Jan 17, 2023


You may have found that stressful life events, including moving, changing jobs, going through trauma, or experiencing a pandemic, might interfere with your ability to sleep.

According to Dr Phil Gehrman, an associate professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry, factors like stress, shift work, chronic medical conditions (like liver disease and arthritis), alcohol, caffeine, a warm or uncomfortable sleeping environment, and exposure to bright lights (like your smartphone or laptop) too close to bedtime can all interfere with a regular sleep schedule.

In his 2016 study, he claimed that stress is "certainly one of the most prevalent contributors".

Your body and brain respond to stress in a number of ways that put you in a hyperarousal state, sometimes known as being “on alert“.

Your heart beats faster and your blood sugar level rises as a result of hormones like cortisol and adrenalin.

It's challenging to go to sleep and stay asleep at night in this condition of heightened awareness, which might start an unhappy cycle.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep problems are often exacerbated by stress and worry, which further add to sleep problems.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), if stress from work or your personal life has made it difficult for you to get to sleep (or remain asleep) for a few days or weeks, you're probably experiencing acute, or short-term, insomnia.

Most of us experience it at some time in our lives since it is common. But if it lasts too long, acute insomnia can develop into chronic (long-term) insomnia.

Doctors would describe your insomnia as chronic if it has persisted for a minimum of three months and you have trouble sleeping at least three evenings per week.

You teach your body to get acclimated to such sleep battles, which is the problem. Therefore, even if the original stressor disappears, you continue to link stress with trying to go to sleep (an association that can be tougher to break).

According to pulmonologist, Dr Sheila Tsai, if your sleep issue has persisted for many weeks and is hurting your career, education, mental health, or personal relationships, you should see your primary care physician or a sleep medicine specialist.

According to the NHLBI, chronic insomnia is not just annoying; it also increases your chance of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. In addition, anxiety, sadness, and other mental health issues are all directly associated with sleeplessness.

In general, if you begin to have trouble sleeping, the goal is to develop appropriate sleep habits to stop the cycle of acute insomnia before it progresses to chronic insomnia. However, you should exercise caution while using therapies that claim to promote sleep but may be ineffective.

Skip the following:

1. Alcohol may aid in falling asleep, but it won't keep you sleeping.

You might find that having a glass of wine or a shot of whisky before bed can help you unwind and fall asleep more quickly. The issue is that you probably won't sleep for very long. Dr Jamie M Zeitzer claims that alcohol fragments sleep, causing more night-time awakenings.

According to research, drinking alcohol right before bed disturbs your body's regular cycles of light sleep and deeper, more restorative sleep during the course of the night.

Drinking causes you to sleep for longer periods of time, and light sleep doesn't have the same positive effects on memory, mood, functioning, and cognition as deep sleep.

This may help to explain why taking alcohol as a sleep aid has been linked to increased daytime drowsiness and has been shown to raise the risk of accidents when operating a vehicle, at home, or at work.

According to Dr Tsai, alcohol can exacerbate obstructive sleep apnea, a condition where your airway regularly narrows or shuts as you sleep, briefly cutting off your oxygen supply.

Dr Zeitzer adds, "Alcohol further lowers muscular tone (causing the throat muscles to become looser) which might exacerbate sleep apnea."

2. Allergy medication: Potentially harmful side effects

Diphenhydramine, an antihistamine used to treat sneezing, runny nose, hives, watery eyes, and other cold or allergy symptoms, is typically found in over-the-counter allergy medications. Additionally, diphenhydramine is known to make people sleepy.

Because of this impact, you could be tempted to utilise the medicine as a sleep aid, but research indicates that this is not the case.

Based on an analysis of 12 years worth of data on the subject, a review article published in December 2015 in “The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders” found that taking an antihistamine like diphenhydramine had no beneficial impact on subjective and objective sleep measures like sleep onset latency (how long it takes to fall asleep), sleep efficiency (the percentage of time spent asleep), or total sleep time.

In addition, Tsai adds that antihistamines like diphenhydramine can have bothersome side effects like dry mouth, drowsiness, and restlessness.

According to the Mayo Clinic, they can also have harmful side effects in older persons, including disorientation, hallucinations, impaired vision, a quick heartbeat, urine retention, and nausea.

3. Sleep trackers: They don't provide any relevant information about your sleep.

However, at this time, sleep trackers can only tell you how well you did (or did not) sleep – not how to address unhealthy sleep patterns.

Sleep trackers like Whoop or an Apple Watch may sound like helpful tools to enhance sleep.

They would be more helpful, according to Dr Zeitzer, if they could provide input that was more focused.

You may develop healthier sleeping habits if, for instance, your tracker could identify the causes of your sleeplessness (by alerting you to things like a hot bedroom or eating or exercising too late in the day). However, they don't do that at the moment.

Up to one-third of people in the US report having insomnia at some point.

A person with insomnia might attempt a variety of treatments and activities to enhance their sleep. Before using dietary supplements, anyone who is already taking medicine for high blood pressure or insomnia should consult their doctor.

Meditation, mindfulness, and relaxation practices have been demonstrated in studies to be beneficial for patients with chronic insomnia.

Exercise can improve fitness and mental health, but it works best whether done in the morning or late in the day.

A regular night-time routine may assist to encourage excellent sleep, and proper sleep hygiene might be useful in encouraging that.