If you’re not sleeping well, it will likely have started to stress and frustrate you. The extra stress just sends you spinning further on a runaway wheel of anxiety. The more you focus on something the more it happens. I know it’s hard but try not to get caught up in a downward spiral of ‘I’m so tired…’ People have been coping and living with insomnia for years and one of the important things is to try not to catastrophise it, it truly does make it worse.
I had chronic insomnia for four years and was sleeping for only an hour a night towards the end of the problem. According to the Sleep Foundation insomnia is considered chronic if you have had trouble sleeping for at least three nights per week and this has lasted for a duration of three months or longer.
You can see your doctor, who may prescribe sleeping tablets and/or anti-depressants. However, once you have gone down this road you may be taking this medication for quite a while. As someone who has taken more than her fair share of these types of medication, with no real benefit to my sleep issues, I would always urge you to try the ten steps below first:
Step 1: Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. It’s a pain I know, we all want our lie-ins, but if you do then make it an extra hour rather than a full morning.
Step 2: Make sure that the only electrical items in your room are 100% necessary. If you have an alarm clock that is lit up like Blackpool Tower turn it away from you or cover the display with electrical tape. If you must have it in your room, put your mobile phone on silent and face down.
Step 3: Understand that sleep cycles last about 90 minutes and it’s quite natural to wake between each cycle. What you should do is aim to minimise distractions preventing you going back to sleep. Could you wear ear plugs, an eye mask etc?
Step 4: Avoid the ‘horror’ story T.V. programmes that tell you how much you are wrecking your life by sleeping badly. There is so much exaggeration and scary stuff out there. Keep reminding yourself that you are doing the best you can and do your best to keep the anxiety at bay.
Step 5: Consider your diet. Do you maintain your blood sugar level? It could be low blood sugar waking you in the night. I eat a round of wholemeal bread at bedtime and keep another by the side of my bed to eat if I wake in the early hours.
Step 6: What do you do when you wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep? Experts say do one of two things to feel sleepy again: go to another room, dim the lights, and read/listen to relaxing music, or listen to a meditation app. There are lots of free apps available. Giving your mind a rest and keeping it calm are the next best things to sleep.
Step 7: Are you being realistic? How much sleep should you be getting? Certainly, if you are older, not as much as when you were younger. As we age the quality of our sleep diminishes as we don’t need the restorative components that it brings.
Step 8: Go out every day for some natural sunlight. If you normally wear sunglasses you may want to consider taking them off for half an hour. If like me, you wear them for a medical reason e.g., cataracts you will probably have to compromise – day light is important for good sleep. It is necessary for our Circadian Cycle which impacts much more than our sleep patterns. It affects our internal functions from other body organs, including appetite, cell regeneration and brain activity.
Step 9: Have a warm bath, add magnesium flakes and/or lavender which are good for sleep, and relaxation. The idea is that you raise your body temperature so that when you get out and go into a cool, dark bedroom the fall in temperature and the absence of bright lights tells your body that it’s time for sleep.
Step 10: Keep positive. This is hard I know when you are exhausted, but neural pathways in our brains are how we create habits. Our brains love negativity so keep thoughts positive ‘Even though I’m having a blip at the moment, I know that I will sleep well and deeply and wake up refreshed.’
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