5 Techniques for Getting a Better Night’s Sleep and Treating Insomnia
Being unable to sleep can be extremely frustrating. You turn the light out, ready for a nice long sleep. Instead, you find yourself tossing and turning, reliving events from the day over in your mind and worrying about what’s coming tomorrow. Minutes, then hours tick by and blissful sleep still eludes you. You sit up, look at the clock. Its 2 am. You think to yourself, “I have to be up at 5! I’m going to be exhausted tomorrow”. You feel angry and annoyed. You would do just about anything to be able to fall asleep.
I’m sure this sounds familiar to you. All of us have had difficulty falling asleep. Insomnia is a word that we hear thrown around a lot, but how do you know if you actually suffer from it? Its defined as having difficulty initiating and/or maintaining sleep or non-restorative sleep, on at least 3 nights per week for at least 3 months, despite having adequate opportunity for sleep. It must also negatively affect your daytime functioning. So while having trouble falling asleep occasionally is very common, when it becomes day after day, week after week, you likely have insomnia.
Lack of sleep can have a lot of negative consequences. When you don’t get enough sleep, your performance and alertness is severely compromised. Chronic sleep loss is also associated with many serious medical conditions including heart attack, stroke, and obesity, and has been linked with mental health problems including anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. This isn’t surprising considering how irritable and grumpy we feel after a bad night!
Thankfully, there are many ways to treat insomnia. Prescription sleeping pills can help you get some much needed rest, but they don’t help treat the underlying reason for your sleeplessness. Behaviour and lifestyle changes often result in longer-lasting change. Here are five natural ways to help fight insomnia.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. Both caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that make us to feel more alert. They should be avoided because it’s important to allow your body to become naturally sleepy. Although alcohol can make us sleepy, it disrupts the second stage of the sleep cycle resulting in a less restful sleep.
- Write in a worry-journal. If you find your worries are keeping you from sleeping, it’s helpful to write them in a journal. Try to do this at least an hour before bed, and write down absolutely everything you are worrying about, no matter how trivial it seems. You can even write it in point-form to make it faster. Decide whether your worry is something in or out of your control. If it isn’t (like worrying about whether it will rain for your triathlon on the weekend), try to let it go by reminding yourself that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it (especially when your asleep). If it’s in your control (like giving a presentation at work in the morning), take a minute to jot down some ideas on how you’ll tackle it in the morning and remind yourself that a good sleep can only help you out. Tuck your journal away with the reassurance that all your worries can be tackled in the future and you have a plan for dealing with them. Knowing that your worries are safely written down and stored for the future helps prevent the rehashing of worries while you try to sleep.
- Create a sleep-conducive environment. We typically sleep best in rooms that are dark, cool, quiet, and comfortable. Invest in light-blocking curtains, ear-plugs, a fan, and cozy bedding. Replace any old pillows with ones that match your sleep style (side-sleeper, back-sleeper, stomach-sleeper, or combination sleeper) and remember that you spend 30% of your life in bed so it should be comfortable!
- Develop a relaxing bed-time routine. At least one hour before bed, establish a sleepy time regimen. Bright lights interfere with our body’s ability to feel tired, so dim the lights and avoid watching TV, playing video games, texting, or anything that involves a screen. Read, have a bath, or meditate, and avoid stressful conversations.
- Enlist your loved ones. Share with your partner or family members that you have a hard time sleeping and tell them your plan for beating insomnia. It’s helpful to share our concerns with others who can make things feel less daunting. Once people know you’re working on your insomnia they will be more willing to help you maintain your sleep schedule and keep quiet when you head to bed!
Not being able to sleep is very frustrating and irritating, but if you follow these five steps, you will be well on your way to a superb slumber.
Allison Crosby is a Certified Counsellor with the Canadian Counselling Association and specializes in the areas of anxiety, depression, self-esteem as well as many others. For more information on Allison, her work, or other articles she’s written for Living Well click here to link to her full bio page.