We’ve all been there – you feel bone tired and can’t wait to fall into bed, however once you get there your mind just won’t switch off.
You toss and turn for ages but can’t get to sleep. The more you try, the more worked up you get and, as the minutes tick by, sleep continues to allude you.
Alternatively, you may have no trouble drifting off but wake in the wee hours, unable to get back to the land of nod.
Either way you get up feeling groggy and unrested. And the most unfortunate part? It is likely to happen all over again when you fall into bed later than night.
Causes of insomnia are many and varied. They can include anxiety, stress, depression, medical problems, medications or diet.
As a career insomniac I’ve tried a lot of things to help me sleep. And we all know the standard advice of refraining from caffeinated drinks, turning off screens and not exercising too close to bedtime. There is a whole host of good proactive ways to have a healthy sleep routine here.
However, sometimes insomnia can take us by surprise. We might feel really tired and expect to fall asleep straight away but there we are 2 hours later gazing at the ceiling. The relaxing bedtime routine or mid-day exercise are a bit of a moot point at this stage in the game.
For these situations here are some things that I’ve found that work, along with some suggestions from the wise and all knowing interwebs:
1. Take a load off
Your mind that is. Often people have trouble sleeping due to overthinking or anxiety about something. Keep a notepad by your bed and write down things that buzzing through your head. It might be writing lists, jotting down something you want to say to someone (or wish you had said to someone) or nutting out a solution to a problem. Putting pen to paper often reassures your mind you won’t forget whatever it is and helps you relax into sleep.
2. Listen to something
Plugging into a guided mediation or soothing music can help distract your mind and put you in the sleep zone. There are even a wide range of podcasts designed to combat insomnia. Simply google “podcasts for sleep” and you will find a whole host of recommendations.
3. Meet your needs
This may sound like common sense but often we are ignoring something that’s preventing our body from transitioning to sleep. Whether its changing out of an uncomfortable item of clothing, going to the loo, having a drink, a snack or even some headache tablets, getting up to meet these needs may be all that is standing between you and some zzz’s. On occasion I have even been known to get up to shave my legs because the prickles have been driving me crazy and stopping me from getting comfortable.
4. Cool off
Apparently a rapid temperature decrease helps your body prepare for sleep. So having a warm shower then stepping into a cool room or turning on the A/C can help tell your brain its sleepy time.
5. Use the 4-7-8 Breathing method
I haven’t tried this one but it is purported to be a “sleep hack” developed by Dr Weil, adapted from an ancient yogi technique called Pranayama. This is what you need to do:
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. This is one breath.
- Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
6. Try aromatherapy
Many people swear by lavender and other sleep blends to help them relax and drift off. The increasing popularity of essential oils means a diffuser is a relatively cheap sleep aid to have on the night stand or you can apply a few drops to your pillow or behind the ears. It’s best to use high quality therapeutic grade oils. If nothing else, your room will smell pleasant.
7. Pick up a book
Back-lit screens are frowned upon at bedtime (although I often find some mindless scrolling helps me to nod off) but the age old bedtime ritual of reading may help you to relax. Just don’t pick a real page turner as you may find yourself too engrossed to put it down!!
Obviously these are just a few things that may help you on your journey to the land of nod.
Most of all, try to keep your expectations around sleep realistic as the more you stress about NOT sleeping, the less likely you are to sleep.