There is nothing worse than slogging through a day devoid of precious sleep due to insomnia. You find yourself simply too tired to be productive or function normal, yet when you go to bed you just can’t sleep.
I know how you feel because I’ve been there…
I feel like for the past four years, I’ve been a walking zombie. After health issues and emotional stress crept into my life, I hadn’t had the luxury of a normal night’s sleep for several years now. As soon as I got into bed I would have problems falling asleep, and even more issues staying asleep.
My sleep disturbances originated from multiple disorders, which are beyond the scope of this article. It took addressing all of those in combination, as well as changing some of my bad sleep habits, to finally kick insomnia to the curb.
I’m happy to report that thanks to those changes, I am completely cured of my insomnia. I get a full night’s sleep just about every night and wake up ready to take on my daily goals.
So, how did I morph from a zombie to someone with a zest for life again?
I did it by addressing some of my bad habits. Keep reading to find out how I supercharged my sleep by getting rid of my insomnia symptoms – and how you can do the same.
1. Get on a Schedule
Do you ever go to bed much later – or earlier – than your normal bedtime, and then find yourself lying awake? Personally, I found that if I didn’t get to bed by 11 p.m., my second wind caused me to stay up all night.
I’m not alone in that respect. Research has found that adopting a regular sleep pattern reinforces your circadian rhythm – a natural mechanism that relies on consistency. There are a great many things that we do at about the same time every day, including sleep. Setting a strict time for you to go to bed (and for waking up) acts as a cue to your body about when you should be awake and when you should be asleep.
In terms of kicking insomnia to the curb, waking up at the same time every day will actually help you to sleep better at night. Having a fixed wake time helps build a strong desire for sleep throughout your waking hours – known by experts as a “sleep drive.” This sleep drive gradually builds, and helps us to get on a good schedule that is healthy for our bodies. It’s important to set a wake time that is achievable 7 days a week. Though catching up on some extra Z’s at the weekend is appealing, extra sleep can make it hard to stick to your bedtime – and it can lead to what is known as Sunday night insomnia.
So, if you want to get a good night’s sleep, try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Set yourself a routine and stick to it!
2. Seek Out the Right Light
Your body follows a natural 24-hour circadian rhythm, which impacts the sleep-wake cycle. It is regulated by the hormone melatonin. Light exposure is a trigger for the body’s management of this hormone. When there is less light, your body produces more of this hormone, which makes you sleepy.
During morning hours, it’s beneficial to get a good dose of natural light to help your body wake up. Exposure to anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes of sunlight upon awakening is what is recommended (even if you have to make use of a lightbox to achieve this). However, during the evening hours, you will want to limit light so that your body can prepare for bed. This means that you shouldn’t watch TV or look at computer screens (all sources of blue light) for at least 30 minutes to one hour before bed. Instead, try listening to relaxing music or read a book.
When you go to sleep, make sure that your room is completely dark. You want your body to produce more melatonin to keep you asleep. If you are unable to make the room completely dark, try a sleep mask to limit the light exposure to your eyes.
If you do wake up in the middle of the night, avoid turning on lights. Try to use a flashlight or motion-activated night light to lead your way to the bathroom. This helps in keeping your melatonin production levels high – meaning you can fall back to sleep quickly and easily.
3. Create a Relaxing Nightly Ritual
Getting into bed in the right frame of mind is very helpful for drifting into dreamland. I actually suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). I began taking nightly bubble baths with lavender essential oil to help me get relaxed before bed, which effectively helped eliminate the RLS so that I could sleep. It doesn’t matter whether you have RLS, another condition, or no condition at all – whatever activity makes you feel most relaxed, save it for your bedtime routine.
I also eliminated anything that could upset me before bed. Since I have trouble turning off my brain at night, I made sure that I wasn’t going to engage in any upsetting conversations or read any negative emails (or news) before bed. You should also avoid social media, or really any screen at all! I also avoided any work activities that stimulated my brain, and focused on relaxing, positive activities – like reading a book or writing in my journal.
In order to get the best sleep possible, try to do whatever you can to create a very relaxing atmosphere and frame of mind before you go to bed.
4. Create the Ideal Sleep Setting
In addition to keeping your room dark, also keep it cool, make sure your bed is very comfortable, and find ways to keep the noise down. If you live in a location where you cannot control the noise outside, try a white-noise machine, a fan, or an air filter in order to drown out noise pollution and help you get to sleep – and stay asleep.
Be sure to reserve your bedroom for sleeping and sex only. Comfortable though your bed may be, if you work in your bedroom or use it to watch television, your brain can effectively turn on in anticipation of these activities. Instead of settling down for sleep, you’re simply gearing yourself up for doing something.
The key to battling insomnia is to train your brain to think that it needs to power down, not up, when you walk into your bedroom.
5. Good Sleep Starts During Your Daytime Activities
Exercise was one of the most critical elements to eliminating my insomnia. Make sure to get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day to ensure a good night’s sleep (and a healthy body). However, try to avoid exercising too close to your scheduled bedtime, as this could wake you up and make it harder for you to fall asleep.
Here are a few other rules of thumb to enforce during the day in order to eliminate your insomnia symptoms:
- Eliminate caffeine in the afternoon and evening hours. Caffeine can cause sleep issues for some people who are sensitive to its effects, even up to 10-12 hours after drinking it. Switch to decaf coffee or choose a non-caffeinated tea if you feel like a cup of something hot.
- Don’t drink alcohol before bed. While a nightcap may help you fall asleep initially, your quality of sleep suffers because alcohol impacts your ability to sleep as deeply. Alcohol is also a diuretic, so you may wake up more frequently during the night after drinking.
- Limit liquids in the evening. After all, you will be much more rested the next day if you can avoid the old bladder alarm clock going off in the night. This can also eliminate the problem of having to get back to sleep after waking.
- Avoid big meals at night. If you eat a large meal, especially one with a large amount of fat, your stomach may not be finished digesting it by the time you’re ready for bed. (Some people do feel better eating a small meal before bed instead of going to bed hungry. If you need to eat something to fall asleep, try something light such as fruit, nuts, or yogurt.)
- Don’t smoke. Nicotine is a stimulant, which will keep you awake. Smokers also experience nicotine withdrawal as they sleep, which makes it harder for them to sleep deeply and to stay asleep.
6. Track What Works for You
I’m a big fan of experimentation and tracking results. Everyone is different! I use a sleep app called Sleep Cycle to track my sleep and adjust my activities based on what gives me the best sleep over time. You could also try the Beddit 2.0 Sleep Tracker, which gets great reviews online!
Plenty of the newer fitness monitors – like the Fitbit – offer sleep tracking in addition to steps, calories, exercise, and heart rate. Taking the time to look at how you sleep at night – when you tend to wake up, when you sleep most deeply – can be incredibly illuminating. It could even help you identify and avoid certain existing habits – like drinking a big glass of water at bedtime – that are fuelling your insomnia symptoms.
Don’t Give Up
At one time, I felt that I would never experience a normal night’s sleep again. It took adopting and consistently following these healthy habits for a while for my sleep cycle to normalize. Then I started experiencing restful nights.
Once I was able to eliminate my insomnia symptoms, my motivation and productivity during the day skyrocketed. So, keep great sleep in the forefront of your mind during the day, implement these steps, and give yourself permission to stop living life only half awake. In no time, you will be greeting the sunrise with a smile, ready and rested for the day ahead.
Have you struggled with insomnia and found a way to beat it? Let us know in the comments – let’s all encourage and support one another.