It’s 2:30 am in the middle of the night. You’ve just woken up to use the bathroom and simply cannot go back to sleep. The next time you look at the clock and it’s 3:15 am. Your mind begins racing, worrying about the impact less sleep will have on your day. You’ll be exhausted, irritable, won’t be able to perform at your usual level. You can already imagine the inevitable crash at 4:00pm. If you’re like me you reach for food that will give you a kick, caffeine, sugary snacks all of which will be bad for your digestion. The next night the cycle starts all over again, only now with increased anxiety levels that perpetuate the problem Argghhhh! It’s the worst! I can say from experience that insomnia is one of the loneliest, most frustrating experiences there is.
We are not alone. Approximately 1 in 3 people have at least mild insomnia. That’s 10% of the population. Sleep medicine prescriptions are at an all time high. While they may help in the short-term. Sleep meds are not a long-term solution to the problem. They offer poor quality sleep, daytime drowsiness, brain fog and other longer-term effects on brain function and behavior.
When you are ready to tackle this unwelcome, nighttime intruder, there are things you can do to help promote better sleep. First things first, take a look at the cause. Medications, depression, anxiety, pain, hormones can all affect sleep and should be tackled first. Check with your doctor and pharmacist regarding side-effects of medications and evaluation of mood, pain and hormone levels. Once these issues are addressed, check out the list below to improve your sleep habits.
Routine. Start winding down an hour before bed and do the same things at the same time to prepare. For example, read, shower, brush teeth, journal. Your body will learn to associate that routine with sleep.
Schedule. Go to sleep at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Your body will become habituated to this cycle.
No naps. Try to avoid naps or limit them to 20 minute catnaps.
Caffeine. Limit your caffeine to two cups during the day and absolutely no caffeine at least four hours before bed. This includes sodas and other caffeinated treats.
Alcohol and nicotine. Limit alcohol and nicotine as they will impact falling and staying asleep.
Technology. No technology at least an hour before bed. Some of the most successful people I know do not take their devices into the bedroom. The light affects melatonin levels and the content makes it difficult to slow your mind.
Bedroom. Make your bedroom an oasis of comfort, quiet and darkness. Reduce the temperature, light and noise for best results. Keep pets out of the room if they disturb you. Turn your clock around especially if you are a clock watcher.
Temperature. Your hands and feet should be warm. In Ayurveda, a centuries old healing practice, they recommend a sesame oil foot massage and wearing socks for better sleep.
Get out of bed. This is a tough one. If you wake up during the night, get out of bed if you don’t fall back to sleep within 20 minutes. Go to a darkened room and do something boring until you feel drowsy and go back to bed. Remember we are trying to link your bed with sleep not tossing and turning.
Use your breath. Finally, if you have trouble falling asleep no matter what time of night, use your breath to help calm your body/mind. Take ten deep, belly breaths with ever lengthening exhales. When your exhale is longer than your inhale, your nervous system responds by slowing down.
Feel free to pick and choose which habits you want to try first. Take baby steps and be patient. It takes time (like a few weeks) to adjust to the new normal. If you’ve tried everything and are still hopelessly sleep deprived, tell your doctor. Sleep specialists can help support your efforts towards better sleep. Good luck and sleep well!