Following on from last weeks post about identifying the needs and reasons for quality sleep, I was contacted by several people who told me- “This is me! I’ve been through all this and it’s so nice to know I’m not alone!” Insomnia can be a very lonely affliction, hours spent in the dead of night lamenting the lack of splendid slumber. The same readers followed on with “I do all of these things, but I’m still not sleeping.”
So what can you do if you aren’t a great sleeper? Maybe you are the type of person like me, who suffers regular bouts of insomnia. Maybe you are at a stage in your life where things are all happening at once and it’s playing on your mind. Regardless, I’ve compiled some things that I’ve done myself along with suggestions from others, including my doctor. Feel free to add to the list anything at all that’s worked for you!
Routine: Keep that bedtime routine, and try and go to bed around the same time every night. No matter how tired you are, don’t be tempted to sleep during the day. You’re setting yourself up for a fall at night. If you are really tired, stick it out as long as you can, and you will be more likely to fall asleep come bedtime.
Bath: Taking a bath as hot as you can bear just before bed can help. When we go from initial light sleep into REM sleep (That high-quality sleep we need to recuperate) the body temperature drops. Being in a very hot bath and stepping out simulates this temperature drop, thus making us sleepy. This is a great trick if you are the type of person who just doesn’t feel tired at bedtime.
Fresh air and Exercise: A lot of the time not sleeping is down to mental factors, but some people find that taking a brisk walk or taking up an active hobby and physically tiring the body out (especially those who work indoors) works well. This isn’t a quick fix, but can help to improve sleep quality over time. It also lets our brain do a bit of ‘sorting’ which lessens activity when we should be sleeping. I always sleep better when I’m training for a race.
Technology: So very current at the moment. Limit screen-time on backlit devices like TVs, tablets and smartphones. There has recently been research to suggest that this type of screen stimulates brain activity, making getting to sleep more difficult. Plus, filling your head with whatever interesting article you’ve found or playing bright colourful games is not conducive to chilling out. The same applies to waking during the night. I know of people who reach for their iPads as a first priority. I cut my screen-time off at least one hour before bed, and we have a ‘no gadget’ rule in the bedroom. My partner uses his phone for an alarm, but that’s all. Besides, I’m sure there’s plenty of better things to be doing in bed! Conversely, one of the things I have found very helpful is using a sleep podcast if I wake at an inappropriate hour. There are lots to choose from, so finding something that suits should be easy. My favourite is ‘Sleep With Me’ – a man with a very mellow, droning voice telling ridiculous bedtime stories that are basically full of nonsense. Odd, but it works. (Have a look here for ways to download.) Some people prefer music.
Eating: Everyone is different here, but I find having a big meal then heading to bed shortly after is a recipe for disaster. Eat at least four hours before bed, and enforce a cutoff time for caffeine and sugary foods – both stimulants. You can move this cutoff back to suit your needs. I like a cup of hot something at bedtime, but opt for fruit tea instead. Contrary to popular belief, drinking alcohol is not a good idea. It might knock you out, but you won’t get that deep, restful sleep you need on a regular basis. I find personally that drinking alcohol interrupts my sleep. If you do like a tipple, try and limit booze to once or twice a week.
Reading: There are debates on this. I think again, this depends on the individual. If I read a book, it makes me sleepy. Others say it has the opposite effect. My doctor once told me if you do want to read before bed, choose a trashy magazine or an ‘easy reading’ book – something that your mind doesn’t have to work hard to process. Others have said that adult colouring books have had the same effect. If you share a bed, your partner might not appreciate the ‘scratch-scratch-scratch’ soundtrack that accompanies this!
Empty Your Head: This is by far the most effective method I’ve used. My brain ticks over at a rate of knots more or less constantly. I keep a notepad and pen on my bedside table. Before bed, I have a ‘brain fart’. I scribble down the things I’m thinking about – sometimes it’s things that have happened during the day, or the things I have to do the following day. Whatever. Just get it out and get it down. This also works when I wake during the night – I jot down a few words about what I was dreaming about, or the first thought that came into my head when I woke up. It also doubles as entertaining reading at a later stage!
I hope that some of these suggestions help you if you aren’t sleeping, or you can tuck this away for future reference. What works for you when you can’t sleep?