It’s 3 or 4am, but sleep won’t come. You turn over. Perhaps a different position will help. Window open or closed? Turn the pillow over now, that should do it. Then come the restless legs.
Panic sets in as you think of how tired you’ll be tomorrow, how much you’ll resent yourself.
You have to get up in 3 hours.
Okay, this is getting ridiculous now.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia, also known as sleeplessness, is a common disorder in which people have trouble sleeping. You may have difficulty falling asleep in the first place, or maybe it’s that you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t settle back down.
Most Brits suffer from insomnia at some point in their lives. It’s especially common among women, with 1 in 4 of us having experienced some insomnia symptoms. It could be something you only get every so often – at a particularly stressful time or for no apparent reason at all. For some, the sleepless nights are relentless, and the sleep deprivation only makes your irritability, lack of motivation and irregular appetite worse.
But why is something that should be as easy as lying down and closing your eyes causing so much strain for so many?
What is Sleep Hygiene?
Practising sleep hygiene encapsulates many lifestyle areas which should ultimately make sleep itself seem less of a distant dream.
Sleep hygiene recommendations include establishing a regular sleep schedule, not exercising physically or stretching yourself mentally too close to bedtime, limiting anxiety, limiting exposure to light (or at least the sleep-eradicating blue light), alcohol and caffeine in the hours before sleep, and having a peaceful, comfortable and dark sleep environment.
This may seem like a long list, but the steps towards healthy sleep patterns are logical when you really think about them. Here are a few suggestions to get started:
Schedule Worry time
It’s easy to forget how little true reflective thought we do during the day. Day-to-day distractions and low-level stresses mean that our bigger thoughts are often pushed to the side. These only come back to haunt us once the dark and quiet solitude leaves them nowhere to hide. For instance, you may have had a relatively good and unremarkable day, but once you are trying to drift off, you worry about everything imaginable – from that time you embarrassed yourself aged 14, to where you will be in 5 years time, if your friends even like you, what happens after you die… etc.
To decrease the amount of time you spend worrying, try scheduling “worry time” and create a bedtime routine. It may sound counterintuitive, but allocating a specific moment to think through and even write down the things that are bothering you when your mind is clear – before tiredness and solitude weaken your rationality – can lighten the load before your head hits the pillow. We all have chatty minds, the difference is whether you address these racing thoughts as they come, rather than suppressing them until later.
Make your nest
Where you are sleeping can hugely affect your quality of sleep. keep your bedroom as distraction-free as possible, removing your electronic devices – especially your phone – before bedding down. A generally clean and tidy haven with fresh sheets and a comfortable ambient temperature is also crucial.
Experiment with comforts that you find soothing – a drop of lavender or ylang ylang essential oil on your pillow, extra blankets or cushions, incense, or some dimmed fairy lights. Whatever adds a feeling of comfort and security to your sleeping area and makes you look forward to hitting that pillow.
Food & Drink
There are several ways you can modify when and what you eat and drink to improve your sleep once the evening comes around. We all know to watch the caffeine – especially in the last 6 hours before bedtime. But even eating too late in the evening can make it harder to get some shuteye, as your body is still actively digesting the food. That being said, going to bed hungry can also be very distracting. Everyone is different, so find the perfect window where you would ideally eat your last meal or snack for optimum sleep.
It’s worth noting that there are also particular foods that can aid sleep. Melatonin-containing foods such as cherries and pistachios increase your level of this sleep hormone in a natural way. Magnesium can also help by calming the nerves – you can get it in the form of bath salts or skin oil – a great way to incorporate it into your nighttime routine. But you can also up your intake via many of the high-magnesium foods out there in your last meal of the day. Examples of healthy, high-magnesium foods include leafy greens, bananas, avocado, and dark chocolate.
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a tingling sensation triggered by certain soft sounds or touches that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. Only recently gaining recognition by the public and neurologists alike, those who are susceptible to this pleasant sensation can use it to achieve a near meditative state of comfort and peace to aid relaxation and sleep.
There are now plenty of YouTube videos where you can explore different triggers to see what works for you (I recommend ASMR Glow and itsblitzzz). Common ASMR triggers include the sound of rain, brushing hair, or soft whispering. Though it can be strange to get used to, many who approach it with open minds find it hugely beneficial for calming the mind and inducing sleep. Use your headphones, close your eyes and allow yourself to experience the sensations. Hopefully, you’ll wake up 8-9 hours later!
The bottom line
Next time you lie awake wondering if the night will ever end, remember that you are not alone. At that very moment, countless others will be experiencing the exact same thing – which is oddly comforting at least.
During the day, try to make small lifestyle changes in an attempt to make sleep come easier that evening. In the hours leading up to bedtime, create your own rituals with the sole aim to calm the body and mind in anticipation of sleep. The best part is that the positive mental effects of healthy sleep should only make it easier for you to continue healthier patterns.
Have you ever suffered from insomnia? Comment your best tips and tricks down below!