I get it. I really do. I had insomnia almost as far back as I can remember. As a young girl, my mom advised me to read myself to sleep, but reading never ever worked. At slumber parties, when every other girl had finally fallen asleep, I would lay on the floor in my sleeping bag listening to the peaceful breathing of those around me and feel … wide awake.
In college, I decided that enough was enough, so I set out to conquer insomnia.
I studied sleep habits and sleep hygiene, and I learned how to manage my sleep. I finally succeeded by realizing, paradoxically, that
you can’t defeat insomnia by fighting it: you defeat insomnia by giving in.
The more you fight, the more your stress levels around sleep will rise, creating a vicious cycle that all but guarantees you’ll never get 8 hours of sleep a night.
Here are six ways you can improve your sleep.
Once you’ve implemented all of these, you’ll have created an environment that allows sleep. That’s when you can stop fighting and give in. I’ll give you some tips on that in a minute, but first, the 6 tips!
Rule out medical issues
- If you have long standing issues with sleep, you’ll want to make sure there isn’t anything medically wrong with you. And if your sleep issues are new, they could be a symptom of disease or illness. So go on, stop reading and call your doctor RIGHT NOW!
Create a soothing bedtime ritual
- Use lotion, a gratitude journal, meditation or prayer. The ritual eases your mind into the knowledge that you are heading towards unconsciousness. It also signals your body to produce sleep hormones and relax.
Make your room dark and eliminate ambient light.
- Turn lighted clocks to the wall. Hide or cover lights from power strips. Use blackout curtains. If you have a TV in the room, turn it off. Instead of a night light, get a small flashlight to use for any middle of the night trips to the bathroom.
Turn off the screens.
- Phones, tablets, and TVs all give off a wavelength of light that stimulates your brain to produce awake chemicals. The blue light literally fools your brain into thinking that it is daytime, and so it floods your body with daytime hormones which make it very difficult to relax. Most experts recommend turning off all screens 2 hours before you go to bed. So sure, look at your phone for a minute while you set the alarm, but no more checking Facebook for 30 minutes after the light is off.
Get out of bed after 20+ minutes of staying awake.
- If you have been awake and alert for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something. The more time you spend awake in your bed, the more you are associating consciousness with your bed. Your bed is a sacred space and is best used as a place for sleeping and sex and nothing else. So get up, go into another room, and read, or watch TV, or organize your Tupperware cabinet. Eventually, when you feel sleepy again, go back to your room, repeat your bedtime ritual, and close those eyes.
One important point here: Everyone wakes up two or three times a night. Everyone. Most of us just don’t remember it. So if you wake up at 3AM, you don’t need to immediately bounce out of bed. Use the bathroom if you need to (Moms, we all know that childbirth gave us nighttime bathroom needs!), and then lay down, close your eyes, and relax. You only need to implement this tip if, after at least 20 minutes, you are still alert and awake.
Get up at the same time every day.
- This is an essential rule of sleep hygiene. I don’t care if you only got 4 hours of sleep due to Rule 5, still get up. The more consistent we are with our sleep habits (going to bed at the same time, getting up at the same time, even on weekends), the better our hormone regulating organs can do their job of creating stimulation and relaxation hormones and other chemicals. Your hormone production will gradually adjust to the point that you’ll have trouble staying awake past your typical bedtime and you’ll wake up without an alarm clock.
Obviously, there are exceptions to all these rules. As a mom to a toddler, I can fall asleep just about anywhere, anytime. So I do watch TV right before bed, and I do sleep in occasionally. But whenever I start to struggle with insomnia, I use these 6 tips consistently to get back on track.
Now, here’s the giving in part: the real secret to defeating insomnia.
Unless you have a medical problem, you will sleep. You physically cannot keep yourself from sleeping. If you could, no one would buy energy drinks or coffee! When you are healthy, you can sleep. So practice the good sleep hygiene tips above and then give up. Don’t fight insomnia. You’re awake at 3:00 am and can’t go back to sleep? Don’t squeeze your eyes shut and count backwards from 1000 by 3’s. Don’t toss and turn and think of all the ways that being tired will ruin the next day. Get up, read a book in another room until 4, then go back to bed. Trust in your body’s ability to sleep.