The Do’s & Don’ts of Overcoming Insomnia

Try These Quick & Easy Steps for the Best Night’s Sleep.

Insomnia is defined as difficulty going to sleep, staying asleep, or waking up much too early. It will affect 1 in 4 people at some point in their life. While for most, this will be a short period of inconvenience (acute insomnia), for some, like myself, it’s a chronic battle. Since I’ve basically had insomnia since birth, I have spent a good amount of time researching it. Chronic insomnia is insomnia that occurs three or more times a week for a prolonged period of time. The causes are numerous, but some of the most common are stress, depression/anxiety, illness, and discomfort/pain. The first three of those are big-time culprits. After all, 3 am is the best time to solve the world’s problems, right? Here are some Do’s and Don’ts.

DON’T: Try not to go to bed thinking about the meeting you have to get up for early. This will set up a stress response in your body which will make it more difficult to go to sleep. Don’t worry about it so much. There are numerous studies which show that a few nights of less than adequate sleep have no effect on work performance. You may be a bit crabby on the inside, but you’ll make it through the meeting just fine. In chronic cases, there can be problems with focus or memory.

DO: Change your mindset about sleep. Instead of going to sleep for tomorrow, go to sleep because you are tired. Combine this with a total body relaxation scan, and you should be out in no time. You can start at either end, but I start at the top, because I tend to clench my jaw when I’m stressed or worried. I start with my head and work down my body, trying to feel the weight of each part of me being drawn into the bed. I haven’t made it to toes in years. This is very effective.

DON’T: Watch TV, read a great book, work, talk on the phone, read this on FaceBook, or eat in bed. All of these will consume your thoughts, and remember, TV, books, and conversations (whether audio or visual) are meant to draw you in, either through suspense, adventure, interest or shock. These activities change the meaning of bed time.

DO: Only use your bed for sleep and time with your mate. This is a vital part of the routine I’m going to talk about next.

DON’T: Avoid going to bed and getting up at constantly changing times, and that includes weekends. I know sleeping in on a Saturday or Sunday is just so wonderful, but think about what you’ve just done to your circadian rhythm. You sleep and awake at basically the same times for 4-5 days of the week, and then on the weekend, it’s a free for all. There is no consistency. Your body doesn’t know when to be tired or wake-up. If you can sleep normal after sleeping in, no problem, this one can be optional. But, if you suffer from the stubbornness of insomnia, having set times will truly make a magical difference.

DO: Establish a pre-bedtime routine. Have a regular order in how you do things starting about two hours before bed. Start to wind down, brush your teeth, turn out some lights, read or watch something that is not to stimulating, meditate, or even have a light snack if it helps. Your body will start to recognize this routine, and it will make consistent sleep times easier to implement.

DON’T: Try not to let your mind go off into super tangent general manager of the universe land thinking of everything you did, forgot to do, have to do, should do, and probably should do.

DO: My favorite for this one is to focus on my breathing and tell my brain, “Thank you, but not right now”. I then go back to the relaxation body scan. If you really have an issue with this one, keep a pad of paper and a pen next to your bed. If you can’t get it off your mind, write it down and go back to bed. Your mind can be eased by knowing you will not forget.

DON’T: Toss and turn with frequent looks toward the clock with the dreadful realization that you are not asleep yet. Your frustration is only compounding the problem. Also, don’t immediately reach for some sleep-inducing medication. They will get you to sleep that night, but your body won’t learn how to fall asleep on its own. Really try the next step for a bit before you go for the knockout.

DO: Try to sleep for a period of 20 minutes. If you are not asleep yet, you are not tired enough to go to sleep, or your mind has not relaxed. Get up, go to another room, turn on low lighting, and read something somewhere between the dictionary and your insurance policy. When your eyelids start to get heavy, you are tired. Go back to bed. Repeat this as many times as you need, but don’t toss and turn for more than 20 minutes. It’s not going to help.

DON’T: If you are one of those people who take a couple hours before you feel tired after the gym, don’t go to the gym within 2-3 hours of bedtime, whichever works for you. This usually applies more to cardio than strength training, but everyone is different.

DO: Exercise! Exercise is a natural remedy for removing cortisol and epinephrine (adrenalin) from our bodies. And in their place, it gives us Serotonin and Dopamine, two neurotransmitters that are targeted with anxiety and depression medications. Exercise slows down that really fast voice in our head. Our bodies were meant to move. It is an essential part of normal hormone balance and metabolism. If you don’t exercise, all of that builds up and makes sleep difficult.

DON’T: This one is going to seem like a no brainer, but avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bed. The first two are stimulants, and you’ll be facing an uphill battle. Alcohol is a depressant and will make falling asleep easier, but many people often wake up a few hours later with a big problem falling back to sleep.

DO: This isn’t the opposite of the previous step, but if you are noise sensitive or light sensitive, it is worth it to invest in blackout shades, an eye cover, a ceiling fan, or a white noise machine. My husband jokes that something 15 miles away can wake me up (he’s not too far off), so I always sleep with a ceiling fan on medium, and I have the kitty fountain for my copilot, Bumbles, right inside the door. The gurgling water plus the fan….out like a light.

I really hope a few of these make the difference for you. Connect with me on LinkedIn or comment below to let me know how it goes.

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