Advice from an insomniac

As some of you know, I occasionally have a real issue with insomnia.

It first became a real problem in my final year of University.  However, it was shortly after leaving University that it really started to become a regular (frustrating) feature in my life.

The cause of the insomnia eventually became clear – stress.  When I can’t sleep, it’s because I’m worrying about something. Even at times when I’m not conscious that I’m worrying, my body refuses to let me sleep.  My body clearly knows me better than my own conscious mind!  My body decides it wants to help me and that the best way to do that is to deprive me of sleep until 3am each night, thereby giving me ample opportunity to reflect on the possible sources of this stress in my life!

But anyway, this isn’t really a post about insomnia.  A few of my friends have recently indicated from their Facebook statuses that they’ve been sleeping poorly.  An adult needs about 7-8 hours of sleep every night so here are some helpful strategies I’ve used over the past ten years to get good night sleep…

Tip #1.  Have a “bed time”: Chances are that you haven’t had a “bed time” since your youth, but I have found that keeping a regular bedtime helps train the body to be ready for sleep at the right time.

Tip #2.  Get up consistently early: As well as going to bed at a regular time, getting up at a regular time helps a lot too.  Get up at the same time every morning, especially when you are in the depths of insomnia. After a bad night’s sleep there is always the temptation to sleep in and catch up on the sleep lost during the night.  Don’t do it!  The problem with doing this is that, in doing so, you start to shift your sleep pattern later and this is likely to make the insomnia even worse.

It is also important that you get up early – I’d recommend 6:30am.  When you start doing this you’ll feel like death for most of the day (particularly after a bad night) but at least you should be ready for sleep in the evening and your body will soon get used to getting up early.

Tip #3.  Exercise regularly: If your body isn’t physically tired, it’s not going to want you to sleep.  Therefore, make sure you wear it out through exercise.  There are also many other benefits to regular exercise, including better health, reduced stress and a good work/life balance, all of which should help contribute to a good night’s sleep.

Tip #4.  Get a decent bed: It’s ridiculous how long I went sleeping badly without even considering getting a new mattress!  We spend approximately 30% of every 24 hour period in bed, but rarely spend the money on a bed to ensure that those hours are beneficial.  It is particularly important to have a bed which provides good back support.

Tip #5.  Setup your bedroom: You want to ensure the environment in which you sleep is conducive to it.  This means having a clean and tidy room, fresh bedsheets and no extraneous light.

When I’m sleeping badly, I like having some relaxing classical music playing quietly in the background to distract my mind as I’m trying to sleep.

Room temperature is particularly important for me.  I find it much easier to sleep in a room that is cool, since if I get hot I get restless and I can’t sleep.

Tip #6. No laptop or TV in bedroom: Some people find watching TV helps them sleep, but for me the complete opposite is true.  If I watch TV or use my laptop in bed it stimulates my brain rather than sending me gently off to sleep.

Tip #7.  Drink the right stuff: Drinking alcohol will often get you to sleep, but the quality of the sleep will usually be worse.

Caffeine will wake you up and so it should be avoided for several hours before bed. When my sleeping habits are bad I don’t drink any caffeinated drinks after midday. Instead, I’ve found it to be beneficial to drink a warm, milky, malty drink about half an hour before bed.

Tip #8: Get ready for it: By the time you actually climb into bed, you want to be in a nice and relaxed state, ready for sleep.  This means that you have to prepare yourself for sleep a few hours before you actually hit the hay.

This usually means that, in the hours leading up to bed, lowering the lighting in your apartment, putting on some relaxing music and avoiding TV and any sources of stress. You also shouldn’t exercise too close to bedtime, although personally, I’ve found swimming to provide a means of tiring and relaxing my body.

Tip #9: If it’s not working, stop trying: If I’ve been trying to get to sleep for fifteen minutes and I’m not drifting off, I get up and go do something else.  Lying in bed staring at the ceiling just gets frustrating and means you’re even less likely to get to sleep.  I usually go and have a cool shower (because I’ve usually got too hot) or go and read a book in the living room, only returning to bed when I think I can sleep.

Tip #10.  Prayer & Examination of conscience: As I said at the beginning of this post, my insomnia primarily comes from stress and, as useful as points 1-9 are, it’s best to get to the root of the problem.

I find I usually have a better night’s sleep if I’ve prayed before going to bed, usually Night Prayer, Rosary or some Scripture.  This prayer time usually involves some kind of examination of conscience – reflecting upon the day, the stresses and strains, the successes and failures.  In considering these, I hopefully recognise them, offer them to God and ask for forgiveness.

“In your anger do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” – Ephesians 4:26-27

These practices help root out the causes worry, anger and conflict and remind me that God is in charge, not me.

Anyway, I hope some of these are useful in helping you achieve that decent night’s sleep. G’night…Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….

“I lie down and sleep comes at once, for in you, O Lord, I rest secure” – Psalm 4:8

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