There are several types of insomnia, but today’s blog post features “sleep-onset insomnia,” aka, trouble falling asleep.
Does this sound familiar?
You’re exhausted. All day you’ve thought about that time when your head can finally hit the pillow. Now is the time.
You are in bed, lights are out, and….did you remember to pay that bill? Shoot what about RSVPing to Stacey’s Evite? And how ARE you going to handle that thing with your in-laws??
Mind chatter. It can go on FOREVER. Eventually you check the clock and this happens:
If I fall asleep RIGHT NOW I can get 6 hours before my alarm…
Pretty sure we all know how this ends. (Spoiler alert: you feel like a zombie when your alarm goes off).
If you find yourself in this situation, first thing to do is review your sleep hygiene . Pro tip: DO NOT IGNORE YOUR SLEEP HYGIENE! I know, you’re insomnia is fierce and it seems as though the temperature of your bedroom won’t make a dent in it, but taken as a whole, good sleep hygiene can really change things for the better. So much so, that sleep expert and Certified Health & Wellness Coach Lindsay Levitan, MPH, recommends her clients establish and follow a sleep routine every night. Dim the lights, read something boring in an actual book (to avoid those blue lights from devices), adjust the temperature in your bed and maybe dab a little lavender essential oil onto your pillow. Find something that you enjoy and start it about 30 min before your ideal bedtime. Contrast this to what most of us usually do- “ok, clothes ironed, lunches made, alarm set NOW SLEEP! GO!”- and you can imagine how a relaxing, nurturing pre-sleep routine could be helpful.
If you are someone who’s brain does that annoying bullsh*t chatter, there are some activities to add to your pre-sleep routine that may be helpful. First, take out the ol’ journal and actually write a list of all the things on your mind. Don’t analyze them, just list them. They may be a list of things to do tomorrow, or a list of worries. Whatever comes out, know that the list will be there in the morning. Your brain can relax.
The second thing to try is meditation. I know, I know, meditation is hard exactly because of mind chatter. Hear me out- first of all, it’s ok to suck at meditation. That’s why it’s called a meditation “practice,” because it’s hard. Sit in a dark room, and set a timer on your phone for at least 10 min. If the idea of being left alone with your mind is terrifying, try a relaxation app. As you sit there listening, undoubtedly some thought will pop up. Here’s another pro tip: DO NOT JUDGE THIS. Avoid the temptation to label yourself a bad meditator b/c some random thought arrived. Instead, just notice it, “hey thought,” and then go back to meditating.
As a life long terrible sleeper, I recently began this bedtime meditation practice, and something strange happened. I discovered I was really good at it! I would sit comfortably with legs folded and back supported against the wall. My preferred meditation technique is to find something to listen to, whether it’s the sound of ocean waves from my white noise app or passing cars outside, it doesn’t much matter. As humans we do come equipped with our own ocean noises, ie, our breath. Following your breath in and out like a wave on the shore, noticing how each breath is different can be very relaxing, and is a core component of mindfulness. The Kardia- Anti-Stress Breath Pace is a great, free app to help facilitate this.
I would set my alarm for 20 min, notice a bit of mind chatter and then bam! Next thing I know my alarm went off! What’s so hard about this?! I secretly gloated for several days about my seeming innate ability to meditate until I realized what was actually happening- I wasn’t becoming the next Buddha, I was actually falling asleep sitting up.
I mention this for two reasons: First, meditation CAN WORK! Once my alarm “woke” me out of my meditation practice, I would climb into bed and easily fall back to sleep. I felt my mind chatter did its thing while trying to meditate, and now that I was actually in bed it didn’t need to continue. Second, I would like to point out how ridiculous it seems that I struggle sleeping in my lovely bed, however I was able to fall asleep in under 20 min sitting upright on the floor.
There’s actually something to this last point. We are creatures of habit. An example, “oh it’s evening I’m watching TV and now is the time I mindlessly eat something. Geez I must be hungry!” We actually do this subconscious “training” a lot, and can actually be sabotaging our own sleep through it. Have you heard, “only use your bedroom for sleeping?” This is why. If we often watch bed in TV, work on the laptop, etc, our body begins to associate bed with these very conscious activities. My body has no associations what so ever with sitting upright on the floor, and since it was dark and I was tired, it was easy to fall asleep. If despite your best efforts your mind chatter has you lying awake for 30 min or more, YOU MUST get out of bed. I know it’s the last thing you want to do, but you are reinforcing the idea that bed is where I lie awake at night. Get out of bed, go into a dimly lit room and read that boring book again*. As tempting as it is, DO NOT get on the computer, or your phone, or even watch TV. The blue lights and potentially interesting content will wake you up again.
*If reading is not your thing, I also highly recommend boring podcasts. It gives your mind something to focus on that’s not your to-do list, just make sure your phone is flipped over and not lighting up the whole room. “Nothing Much Happens” and “Sleep with Me” are two podcasts made specifically to help you fall asleep and can be found in iTunes.
Lastly, I’m going to mention the book that I believe was instrumental in helping me take control of my sleep, it’s called Say Goodnight to Insomnia. It provides further explanation regarding the role our mind plays and practical strategy to over come it.
What are some of your challenges around sleep? What has worked for you? Please post questions/ comments below or better yet, join our Private Facebook Group. We’d love to have you in #OurTribe!