At a certain point in life, nearly everyone has periods of trouble with slumber. But if it's a problem that's interfering with your physical and mental health, there are several things you owe it to yourself to be doing. If you don't at least try certain tactics for falling and staying asleep, you only have yourself to blame. I know this from experience.

I've always been a light sleeper but as I've aged bedtime has become increasingly problematic. Without good rest, I've experienced countless days of impaired cognition, reduced productivity, emotional volatility and generally feeling like crap. Since he hit his late 40s my husband began suffering from sleeplessness, as well.

Here's what we've learned.

You need to wear ear plugs

Barking dogs, traffic noise, loud neighbors and most commonly, a snoring partner, will drive an insomniac batty. Help yourself by wearing earplugs. Personally, I wear the screw-in type because the regular foam ones always feel like they're falling out, which I use as an excuse to remain awake. I also buy the kind with a string between the two plugs, which simply makes it easier to not misplace them.

You need blackout curtains or blinds in your bedroom

In case you're not aware, light is the enemy of sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, light activates a nerve pathway from your eye to your brain's hypothalamus where a thing called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) stimulates other parts of the brain which raise body temperature and set off stimulating hormones including cortisol. The SCN also shuts down the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.

You need to wear a good eye mask

Even if your windows are blacked out, you should cover your eyes while sleeping. Because I know how much light wreaks havoc with sleep, I even wear my eye mask to the bathroom in the middle of night, only letting in enough light so I don't trip and kill myself. Yes, I know this is weird and probably unsafe but I believe it helps. The best eye mask I've found is the Dream Sleeper mask.

Certain dietary and mineral supplements can help

Important disclaimer: Do not take any of these without consulting a health care provider, which I am not. I certainly don't know your unique physiological issues or whatever other medications you're taking which could pose a problem. That said, here are several dietary and mineral supplements worth researching and discussing with your health care provider:

  • GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) (550 mg)
  • L-Theanine (200 mg)
  • Vitamin B6 (10 mg, as Pyridoxine HCl)
  • Melatonin (5 mg)
  • Lithium Orotate (5 mg)
  • Phosphatidyl Serine (300 mg)

Note that we procured these supplements through a company which required us to have a referral from our chiropractor, however they're also available at Amazon.

Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) can be a temporary aide

See aforementioned disclaimer about consulting with a health care provider, which I am not. Drowsiness is a side-effect of this antihistamine. It's not intended for long-term use and should never be taken when you've consumed alcohol. 

Deep breathing induces relaxation

Try Dr. Andrew Weil's technique, which I use as soon as I'm under the covers. It goes like this: Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold your breath for seven seconds and then breath out from your mouth for eight seconds. It lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and promotes relaxation and peace.

Get a sleep study

My husband doesn't fit the physical profile of the typical person with sleep apnea, but after months of misery not sleeping, he got an order from his doctor for a sleep study. It turns out he was waking 70 times an hour without knowing it -- essentially not sleeping at all. He now uses a BiPAP machine, which provides inhale and exhale pressures to keep his airway open. If you cringe at the idea of using a sleep machine at night, know that they're quiet and most people who go through the work of getting accustomed to them report an increase in quality of life.

Try aromatherapy, which has been scientifically linked with sedation

Essential oils contain chemicals which, when breathed, are absorbed into your bloodstream and can have physiological effects. I'm partial to a Jodi Baglien calming patch which uses oils of mandarin, lavender, geranium, frankincense, sandalwood, blue tansy and ylang ylang. The company also makes a lavender patch which may be particularly effective if you like the smell considering that this essential oil has been scientifically correlated with having sedative effects on the neurological system.