When trying to overcome insomnia, it’s important to know why you have it to begin with.
When insomnia is caused by a temporary issue, like simple daily life disruptions or stress, it can go away on its own within a few days. Chronic insomnia, however, is usually connected to something deeper; many illnesses are connected to chronic insomnia, including simple medical issues like allergies or acid reflux, all the way to serious illnesses like Parkinson’s, hyperthyroidism, and even cancer.
As insomnia occurs for different reasons, varying from person to person, ask yourself if anything has drastically changed in your normal life or routine. If you’ve had an abnormal week, perhaps one that’s more stressful than usual, then it’s likely you’re suffering from temporary insomnia; in which case, there are many steps you can take that I will expand on to get you back on track. If you haven’t slept in a week and there have been no significant changes in your daily routine, talking to your doctor may be beneficial to ensure it’s not a symptom of a deep underlying medical issue. There’s definitely no harm in getting a checkup to make sure there’s not something going on internally!
Trust me, I get it. The struggle is real when it comes to insomnia. As someone who has suffered from it, I know firsthand that not getting a sufficient amount of sleep (or any at all) greatly takes a toll on all aspects of our lives; our mental, physical and emotional health are each thrown into disorder. Most people don’t get enough sleep, but don’t see themselves as actual victims of insomnia. They’ve become physically conditioned to sleep deprivation, so they don’t realize it’s actually a problem they’re suffering from. That said, insomnia is not to be taken lightly.
The bad news about insomnia, as we know, is that it’s frustrating and debilitating. The good news is that there are many, many ways to overcome it on your own. Overcoming insomnia is not an easy feat, but it is achievable. It doesn’t happen overnight (pun intended), but if you follow these steps and actually put in the dedication to getting better, you may find yourself well-rested again before you know it.
Get Rid Of Bad Habits
Often times, bad daily habits are major contributing factors to insomnia that you’ve never even considered.
-Caffeine: Drinking caffeine too late in the day is a problem that most coffee lovers don’t realize; even if you feel like the caffeine has worn off by bedtime, you may still have too much in your system that’s preventing your nervous system from recognizing that it’s time for sleep.
-Overeating in the Evening: If you’re having a big meal late at night, the feeling of being too full can make you feel uncomfortable. If you’re already in this habit, you may not even recognize that you’re uncomfortable because you’re mentally used to the feeling; but your body isn’t. This can prevent you from being able to fall asleep, as comfortability is essential for falling asleep. Furthermore, when you eat too much late at night, your body is working harder to digest it, which sends energy to all of your organs making you more alert than you should be.
-Wine (or any sugary foods or drinks) and Alcohol: I used to drink a glass of wine every night. I was under the impression that it would HELP me to fall asleep, when instead it was doing the opposite. Taking this habit out of my routine was life changing; if you’ve ever been to a children’s birthday party where everyone’s hyped up on sugar, you know that “sugar high” is a real thing. While we as adults aren’t physically bouncing off the walls after consuming sugar, our bodies are still internally reacting to it the same. Having wine or sugary foods in the evening gives your body that extra high, making it impossible to fall asleep. This goes for alcohol as well. Try cutting sugar out of your nightly routine for a month and you may rid yourself of insomnia.
-Napping: In order to get yourself back on track with a proper night’s sleep, cut out napping. I know it’s difficult, especially for insomniacs, but napping sends an irregular sleep schedule message to your brain. If you don’t train your brain to know when it’s time to sleep every night, it’s going to be more difficult to fix your sleeping problem.
Keep Lights And Technology To A Minimum
This is ESSENTIAL to beat insomnia. As we’re living in the digital age and on our phones more than any generation prior, we’ve grown accustomed to check our phones out of boredom or insomnia to entertain ourselves. This wreaks havoc on your nervous system, because instead of teaching it that “now it’s time to sleep”, you’re teaching it that the middle of the night is when you check your phone or watch TV.
Think of you, your brain, body, and nervous system as a team; you can’t behaviorally condition yourself to get on a proper sleep schedule if you don’t all work together. When you spend too much time staring at lights (especially from phones, laptops, TVs, and even Kindles), you’re sending a message to your body that it’s still daytime and you shouldn’t be closing up shop yet. As much as it’s difficult to break the habit, try putting your phone on Do Not Disturb 30 minutes before you even crawl into bed and set it aside. Don’t look at it until morning. If you’re like I used to be and fall asleep with the TV on, rid yourself of that habit as well. The unnatural light isn’t healthy or helpful for conditioning your brain to fall asleep (not to mention a major distraction).
If possible, keep your environment dimly lit hours before bedtime. This is a technique that mentally prepares you to know that the day is done and it’s time to fall asleep soon.
Absolutely Rid Yourself Of Distractions
Hand in hand with keeping technology at bay, evening distractions play a key role in insomnia. Something I struggle with when I’m suffering from insomnia is having my brain run through everything I did that day, what I have to get done the next day. It’s tough to avoid this, but if you can get in the habit of compartmentalizing thoughts before bedtime and instead practice breathing exercises, I promise that you’ll see a significant change.
Something I’ve learned to do that’s greatly improved my nightly sleep regimen is checking off some of my to-do list for the next day. Actually, making a to-do list for the next day has improved my cluttered mind at bedtime. The more thoughts and responsibilities you put on paper, the less you’ll have to think about when you’re trying to fall asleep. If you have light work you need to do the following day, like sending a quick email, scheduling an appointment, calling any type of customer service, etc, try accomplishing some of these items the night before; it’ll take away unnecessary excess stress and make you less distracted at bedtime.
If you live in a somewhat busy area, I highly recommend buying a white noise machine; I used to HATE the sound and had no idea how anyone could fall asleep to it. Then I decided to buy one, and I realized it’s magical. The technology behind it has been perfected to cancel out distracting outside noises while staying in a consistent sound rhythm that isn’t distracting on it’s own.
Get On A Fixed Sleep Schedule
My problem used to be that I would have insomnia for a couple nights, so I’d try to make up for it by taking an OTC sleep aid on a night where I could sleep in the next day, to knock me out and allow myself to oversleep to make up for the hours lost in nights prior. Turns out, this is a big no-no. Circling back to not napping, you need to train your biological clock to get into a routine. It takes awhile, but choose a time window that you can stick to and make that your permanent sleep schedule; even on weekends. By conditioning your nervous system to think “Oh, it’s 10 PM. This is when we go to sleep.” and 7 AM, time to wake up!”, it will organically know when it’s time to shut down for the day, every single night.
This is probably my most essential piece of advice. It’s so easy to sleep in on certain days or take a nice afternoon nap, but by doing this you’re leaving your biological clock in constant confusion of when you’re supposed to sleep and when you’re supposed to be awake!
Take Work Out Of The Bedroom
Last but not least, avoid doing anything in your bedroom that doesn’t pertain to sleep or sex. By working in bed, eating in bed, and watching TV in bed, you’re not sending a message to your body and brain that your bed is made for sleeping. You want to establish a direct connection between your bed and brain that makes it understood that when you’re in bed, it’s time to sleep; nothing else.
Give Yourself Time
To reflect: Get rid of caffeine, alcohol, big meals, and sugary foods before bed. Force yourself to steer clear from napping, and get yourself on a regular sleep schedule that you religiously follow. Turn off all lights and distractions long before bed, don’t use your bed for work, and keep your mind on breathing exercises instead of distractions.
Insomnia can truly feel like an uphill battle, and this is because it takes time to overcome. Even so, don’t lose hope or convince yourself that nothing is working; give it time. Just like any habit takes weeks, months, and sometimes years to break, forming habits is the same way. But if you keep at it and practice these methods, it will pay off in the long run when you’re finally feeling well-rested and energetic again.