Photo courtesy of Bonbon
Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I’m a life-long insomniac. I’ve been trying to find the secret to successful snoozing for many years, and I’ve actually learned some really effective ways to get the rest my body needs.
I still struggle with it – don’t get me wrong. If you’re a chronic insomniac, you’re among the 10-15% of adults who’ve had trouble sleeping for more than a month. Most sufferers of chronic insomnia say their symptoms tend to wax and wane, meaning that they’re able to get sleep a night here or there in between bouts of sleeplessness.
Insomnia has a bunch of potential causes, the most important of which is an underlying disorder or disease. It’s important to rule these out before beginning to treat your lack of zzzzzzz’s. As you surely know, disordered sleep leaves a person fatigued during the day, with a lowered ability to function well. This can have a deep impact on every aspect of life, including work responsibilities, personal relationships, and physical as well as mental well-being.
While you may not be able to kick your night owl habits entirely, there are some things you can do that have been proven to help people just like us get into a more acceptable sleep pattern. Try them one at a time to see what works in your life.
- Write about it. This may seem far-fetched, but stay with me here, because this really worked for me. Start writing down some basic daily habits, like caffeine intake, what kind of food you ate, activity level, medications you took. In the morning, write down how your sleep was that night. After a few weeks, you’ll be able to discern some patterns that may be keeping you awake. I discovered that even one cup of coffee after noon would keep me awake almost all night.
- Touch and be touched. The simple act of laying skin-to-skin with your mate, or falling asleep holding hands can actually make a difference in the quality of your sleep. Touching and being touched releases oxytocin, which makes us feel good and can lead to a feeling of well-being. Physical touching also lowers the body’s production of cortisol, slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure - making sleep much more likely. If you’re single, hugging your kids or friends close to bedtime can help, too.
- Get moving. (During the day, of course!) I’d heard this tip for years, but realized its efficacy a few months ago after a long bout of low physical exercise. When I joined the local gym and took up swimming, the difference in my sleep quality was remarkable. Not only does exercising release feel-good endorphins – it also just plain wears you out! I’m still swimming 3 to 4 times a week, and I can testify that getting physical really does help me sleep better at night.
- Stay put. (At night, of course!) Many troubled sleepers grow weary of “trying” to fall asleep, so they throw off the covers and get out of bed. Since there’s zero chance of you getting any sleep if you’re upright, try getting comfortable and staying in a sleep-inducing position. At the very least, you’re resting your muscles, and you will probably fall asleep eventually, especially if you try #5.
- Breathe. Focusing on your breathing is really effective in inducing relaxation. Try to slow your breathing down, and breathe from the stomach instead of the diaphragm. Use progressive muscle relaxation until your entire body is feeling good and relaxed.
The most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone, and that more help is available if you need it. If these tips don’t help, a trip to your physician may be in order. Sleep aids or supplements might offer you temporary relief, but continue to use self-help techniques as well. Your brain will (hopefully) thank you in the morning.