10 ways to stay sane with insomnia
I've had sleep challenges for about 10 years and I've tried just about everything to find a way to sleep through the night without drugs.
I've done the sleep lab (that's me above), tried the sleepy teas and herbal remedies, tested the routines, used the relaxation techniques...and I still need a prescription pill to get a full night of sleep (Hydroxyzine, an antihistamine)..
But I no longer feel tortured.
While I take a pill most nights, I still often wake up at least 2-3 times a night. This used to make me freak out in all kinds of ways - some nights I'd be full of intense anxiety, some nights I'd be so angry I wanted to break things, some nights I cried with frustration.
No longer, And since it seems nearly every woman I talk to has frustration with sleeplessness, I want to share what helps rest even when my body rebels.
My Mum is experiencing memory loss, my Grandma had Alzheimers, and I want to live to be a ripe old age with my mind and body in tact, so I put sleep ahead of most things in my life...because it IS my life.
Some of these might sound odd, some you may have heard and tried before, but, as my friend Cortney says, "The amazing thing is, they actually work, but you have to actually do them!" So true, right?!
If you have challenges sleeping, you might find something new, so please read through them all and give them a try - heaven knows we could all use a little help finding what works!
Make sure to check out the link to my favorite sleepy-time meditation at the end. And if you have tricks and techniques, herbs and ideas that work for you, PLEASE share with me - ways to connect are also at the end of this post.
Lastly, if you know someone who struggles with sleep, please share this with them...
How I get more and better sleep:
Don't freak out
Do a brain dump
Keep lights low for an hour+ before bed - use candles when possible
Program screens to dim in the evening
No liquids (including wine) within an hour of bed time
Read or listen to books on something other than a phone
Kick out cats, dogs and phones
Drink less coffee (or none if possible...I'm not there yet)
And a bonus if you have a partner who snores or moves a lot: have a happy, comfortable second sleep location.
1 - Don't freak out
Just because we're not asleep doesn't mean our bodies and brains can't rest.
Worrying about not sleeping doesn't make us sleep and it often keeps sleep at bay, so why do it? It came as a surprise to me when I realized it was an option to not freak out.
I used to lay in bed with building anxiety as minutes turned to hours. "I need to sleep! I have so much to do tomorrow! How am I going to get by without enough sleep? This sucks! This is so unfair! I have SO MUCH to do and now I'm going to be tired!"
And the more I worried about not bothering my partner with tossing and turning, the more I felt the urge to toss and turn, so the more my anxiety and frustration grew.
Now as soon as I feel the old dread coming on and hear thoughts wandering in, I get important thoughts out of my head (see #2) and do something to distract my mind (see #7).
I've also set up our guest bed as a dreamlike place and I go there as soon as I feel a twinge of restlessness or my husband move. It's easier and more calming for me to get up and sleep elsewhere than to lay there trying to resist moving or being irritated. And it was fun surrounding the guest bed with images, colors and textures that help me feel calm...guests certainly don't mind!
If I awaken earlier than I want, rather than agonize over trying to go back to sleep, I listen to Jon Kabat-Zinn' s 45 minute body scan meditation. I listened to it about 20 times before I actually heard the entire thing - I'm not sure if I fall asleep or go into a deep meditation, but I don't care! I always come out of it feeling MUCH more rested than if I try to just go back to sleep.
There's a link to the meditation at the end of this post - it can also help when listened to before bed.
2 - Do a brain dump
Write down important things needing to be done the next day.
Part of what keeps our nervous systems awake are the thoughts about things we need to do. Rather than let these become torture devices, I have a designated spot with a sharpie pen and bright notecards - I write down what I want to remember, then put the notecard where I'll see it the next day. These are thoughts that come in while I'm getting ready for bed.
Put notes with a pen by your head
When I'm laying in bed and think "Omg I HAVE to do that tomorrow!" and my brain starts spinning, I immediately write down the thought. I use a small stack of sticky notes so it's heavy enough to reach the floor...because I throw it to the end of my bed. In the dark. Yes, I'm a little nutty. But it helps!
I sometimes have a lot of these OMG thoughts, so I keep a few stacks of notes nearby. I often write these in the dark so I have to decipher them the next morning, but it's well worth it.
4) Keep lights low - use candles when possible
The Sleep Foundation says,
"Light is the most important external factor affecting sleep," and "Light plays a central role in regulating circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that signals when to be alert and when to rest. Light also affects the production of melatonin, an essential sleep-promoting hormone."
At night, I turn down my adjustable bedroom lights on my way to the bathroom. In the bathroom, I keep a lighter in the same place so I can light candles without turning the light on. After this, I avoid bright lights like I'm a vampire.
I've grown to love candlelight nights.
5 - Dim screens
I've learned the blue light emitted from screens really does a number on sleep hormones, so I've programmed my phone, my Amazon Fire (for my night time stories) and my computer to to automatically change to a more sleep-friendly light at 8:00 pm.
Phones and tablets have built-in options for scheduling dimming, and on my computer I use a program called F.lux. They make the screen a bit orange, but to me it's worth it.
6) No liquid within 1+ hours of bed time
When I went to the sleep lab, I slept better than I had in years. When they awoke me at 5 am I was so angry I yelled with tears in my eyes. I felt robbed.
They didn't find anything wrong with me, so the sleep doctor gave me a book and that was that. (I'm still mad about how this turned out).
When I thought about what was different that night, I knew part of it was being in a new place - we can start to associate our own bed with bad sleep, which is no bueno.
But I realized they hadn't let me read or drink tea, which I'd been doing every night (to help me sleep, of course!). I hadn't gotten up to pee and I hadn't been anxious about the weird red light staring at me or the wires attached to my head. The fact that I didn't awaken with my heart racing was far more weird than the lights or wires.
So I cut out reading and tea...and wine. <GASP> I know, wine is wonderful! But for so many of us, it's no friend to sleep.
Without these three things, I fall asleep faster
and stay asleep longer.
I do still have my story at bed time (and often throughout the night)...
7) Read or listen to books on something other than a phone
My hubby learned I loved the author Gerald Durrell, so for Christmas one year he gave me an Amazon Fire loaded with a books by him (one of the most thoughtful gifts ever!).
We now often marvel at how incredible that device is in my life.
Instead of read with a light on, I put an ear bud in one ear and an earplug in the other, turn on my book, turn off the light, and I'm usually asleep in less than five minutes. It's like magic! Maybe the English accent has something to do with it...David Attenborough and the James Harriot reader have the same effect.
The important things are:
It distracts my mind with something mindless, with my eyes closed
There are no lights on
It's not a phone
If I awaken throughout the night, I put the earbud back in, rewind to somewhere near where I fell asleep, and hit play...and I'm usually asleep again in minutes.
Of course the screen is on the night setting and as dim as it can go!
7) Kick out cats, dogs and phones
When I first started having sleep trouble, my beloved dog Cricket slept under the covers at my feet (don't ask me how she breathed!). But when she started snoring and kicking in her sleep, I gave her a bed next to my bed.
But I didn't have all these other tools and I her snoring still made me wake up with my heart revved up, so I taught her to sleep in the living room. It was heartbreaking to turn her out after all those years, but it was her or my sanity.
When I moved in with my hubby, he had cats that slept with him. It's wonderful when he's home because they sleep with him, but if I'm alone, they want to sleep with me, which goes no better than sleeping with Cricket.
So, armed with earplugs and a few things to throw at the door, I locked them out. It took 2-3 nights of diligent banging on the door, but now they know not to even try.
The research on phones in the bedroom show they're a true enemy of sleep. It's too tempting to scroll past our bed time, and unless we have them on airplane mode, they make noise.
I always have my phone on vibrate, and I plug it in downstairs as one of the first steps in my night time routine. It's like putting my friend to bed! No temptation, no midnight dings.
8 - Wear earplugs
I don't know when I started wearing earplugs, but this was a game changer for me. Some people say they don't fit right or they're uncomfortable, but for me, not sleeping is much more uncomfortable. It's been well worth the first few nights of feeling like I was Frankenstein with knobs sticking out of my head and blobs digging into my ears.
Putting in an earplug (the other ear has an earbud for my audio book) is now part of my night time routine. I love hearing all sound but my breathing disappear...
9 - Drink less coffee
I. Love. Coffee. I love the flavor and the warmth and the ritual and the smell. But I also love to sleep.
It used to be that the worse I slept, the more coffee I drank the next day. Now it's the opposite. If I have a rough night of sleep, I think back on the day before - how much did I drink and when did I drink it? I often find I drank coffee later than my normal 10 am cutoff time and/or more than 1-2 cups of my half decaf blend.
So every January I do a cleanse and cut out coffee for 2-3 weeks (among other things). This gives my body a break from the stimulant and resets my caffeine tolerance.
When I'm used to drinking multiple cups of coffee every day, it takes multiple cups of coffee to feel "awake." When I cut it out, I can actually feel the caffeine kick in. It's a weird feeling! I feel my heart rate and energy go up, I hear myself talking faster, and I see myself moving faster and multitasking more.
Watching caffeine kick in is like watching someone on drugs!
Throughout the year the amount I drink every day often ratchets up, but I seem to do best with a cup of green tea, then one cup of half decaf coffee. I have varying degrees of self control...
10 - Exercise
I know, I know, everyone says to exercise for everything good in life. But you know what? They're right. We weren't built to sit in one place and not move for hours on end. Toxins pool up, our muscles, tendons and ligaments stop working smoothly, and we generally just begin to break down from the inside.
Maybe that sounds harsh, but that's how I see it.
"Get busy living, or get busy dying," says Red in Shawshank Redemption.
We were born to move, so I make a point to get up and move every single day. Even in the rain. I take a walk, do jumping jacks, do lunges in the living room.
Just. Do. Something,
The more the better, anything is better than nothing!
When I get regular exercise, I feel more energetic and positive, I ache less, I can concentrate and think more clearly, I'm more able to focus...
And most importantly, I sleep better.
So there you have it, those are my top 10 tips for a better night's sleep. I hope something here helps you!
If you've been wanting to try new sleep tricks but resist, hear my voice tonight, urging you to begin. Today, Right now.
Good luck on the sleep front! And please let me know if there's a tip or trick that helps you sleep...I'm always on the hunt for new and better tricks!
I hope to try biofeedback soon and would love to know if you've tried this...
And if you want help with organizing for sleep...or for any other reason (stress relief, happier relationships, better business, better health...shall I go on?), connect with me! I've been a professional organizer for years, and I've been working on managing my mind and body for maximum health and happiness for many more years. I'm here to help - you're not alone. And people tell me I'm pretty good at this stuff :)
If you know someone who struggles with sleep, please share this with them...