Coping With Insomnia: The Most Important Lessons to Learn to Get The Sleep You Need
Many people have dealt with that incredibly frustrating inability to sleep when you want to sleep. For some, they have trouble falling asleep. For others, they have trouble staying asleep.
And some poor people struggle to do either one.
When a stressful day leads to a sleepless night, we are dealing with brief symptoms of insomnia. But many people deal with this day in and day out:
- 15% to 20% percent of people struggle with short-term insomnia disorder. This is when insomnia hits frequently, but only lasts for under three months.
- 10% of people have chronic insomnia disorder. This is when insomnia hits at least three times each week for over 3 months.
So here’s the million-dollar question:
how do we deal with this lack of sleep?
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That’s what I’m here to tell you. And I’m breaking it all into three main sections:
- Accepting what is: Tools to help you let go of the frustration and anxiety of insomnia – things that only make it harder to sleep
- Making healthy sleep choices throughout the day: The decisions you make all day can affect your sleep at night
- Getting Medical Help: Sometimes we need an extra helping hand
These three sections are filled with tools that will help you cope with insomnia so you can learn to get the sleep you desperately need– whether you deal with it for one night, a few weeks, or years.
Accepting What Is
There’s an evil cycle in insomnia.
- The more stressed you are, the less you can sleep.
- The less you sleep, the more stressed you are about not sleeping. So then you actually sleep even less.
Accepting the insomnia does not mean you throw your hands up and give up trying to find new ways to deal with the problem. Of course, you should always be open to new sleep techniques, new natural sleep aids, etc.
Accepting insomnia means when you are lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, you accept this is happening to you right now and no matter how much you try to mentally control it, you can’t.
This keeps you adrenaline/stress/anxiety down. It is what it is.
In fact, this acceptance, this letting go of the sleep tension, may be all you need to actually start sleeping better. Dr. Guy Meadows spoke with the Guardian about this paradox:
“The paradox is that sleeping requires us to do absolutely nothing. If you ask a normal sleeper how they do it, they will tell you they do nothing. But if you ask an insomniac, they will give you have a list as long as their arm. My theory is that it is doing all these things to help us get to sleep that is part of the problem.”
These next three tips will help you better accept what is in the moment – and hopefully get you to sleep sooner rather than later.
How to Get The Sleep You Need
1. Don’t Keep Checking The Time
As long as you have an alarm set for the time you need to get out of bed for work, there is absolutely no need to know what time it is. Repeatedly checking the time will only make you more anxious about that looming alarm time and angry with your body for not falling into restful sleep.
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If you are tempted to check the time, get rid of your bedroom’s clock entirely and set an alarm on your phone – which is placed across the room and out of reach.
2. Get Out Of Bed
It’s normal to toss and turn for a few minutes before drifting off to sleep, but if you are still tossing and turning 20 to 30 minutes into it, just get out of bed. Essentially, stop the madness!
When you stay in bed for hours without sleeping your anxiety/frustration builds and your muscles may get stiff/tired. Move on to activities in the next step and then try bedtime again. Repeat as needed throughout the night.
3. Do Something Calm
Once you’re out of bed, you will want to do something calm and soothing.
Don’t start a suspenseful movie that you will want to follow through until the end. Don’t pick up an engrossing book that makes you want to read more and more. Don’t work on your finances or clean the bathroom.
Instead try any of these activities:
- Color in an adult coloring book
- Flip through a magazine
- Listen to calming music
Making Healthy Sleep Choices Throughout The Day
Choices that you make everyday – even when you get out of bed in the morning – can affect your sleep at night. None of these may entirely cure your insomnia, but studies have shown they will absolutely help your insomnia. Plus, they will improve your overall health.
To cope with any sort of chronic insomnia, you must take these steps to help as much as possible.
1. Rethink Alcohol
There’s nothing like that drowsy feeling after a glass or two of wine. But a few hours into blissful sleep, that same wine may be the very thing waking you back up
Studies have shown that alcohol can both disrupt your sleep and diminish the overall quality. And since it also as a diuretic, you may also have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Movement + bright lights + loud flushing = a really hard time getting back to sleep.
You may want to discontinue alcohol use indefinitely. See how it affects your sleep. If you do drink wine before bed, keep it to one glass and monitor your sleep. Of course, talk to your doctor first.
2. Exercise Your Body Every Single Day
There used to be a time where work meant physical work. Farmers, laborers, and house workers would be moving their bodies from dusk ‘til dawn.
But in today’s world, most of us sit down during work.
Though we are mentally exhausted by the end of the day, most of us have barely done any physical activity at all. This does not help your insomnia.
If you’ve been dealing with insomnia for a while, you are probably exhausted and hitting the gym feels like the last thing in the world you want to do. You must do it anyway.
Try getting in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise:
- Take a long walk around your neighborhood or in a nearby park. Try a walk on your lunch break and/or after dinner with the whole family
- Go for a leisurely swim when the weather is nice, or do laps in an indoor pool
- Take a yoga class
- Try ballroom dancing
Vigorous exercise – like running or too much weightlifting – may not help insomniacs in any way. It is possible that it will amp you up too much. So stick to moderate activities, but do them regularly.
3. Say Goodbye To Caffeine
After a sleepless night, caffeine may seem like a glorious lifeline to the world. But even your early-day coffees may be negatively affecting your sleep at night. Caffeine’s effects can last for 8 hours.
You need to start cutting down the amount of caffeine you drink.
If you are drinking any after lunchtime, cut that out first. In a few days, cut out any caffeine during mid-morning. See how that affects your sleep. If you do not notice any improvement, start slowly cutting back your morning coffee.
4. Get Your Stress Under Control
All of us have stress in our lives. It is inevitable as a human being. But excessive stress or anxiety affects all areas of our health – including our sleep habits. Be intentional about bringing down your stress levels to save your sleep:
- Talk to a therapist
- Mediate or pray daily
- Diffuse essential oils like lavender or frankincense during stressful times (like car rides or making dinner) and in your bedroom
- Try acupuncture
- Find a social balance – make sure you are getting out and enjoying time with friends, but also carve out some time for solitary rest and recharge
- See if there is anyway you can cut back at work. Are you taking all the breaks you are legally entitled to? Do you take on extra projects that aren’t mandatory?
The exercise you are doing can also be a massive stress-buster.
Getting Medical Help
These first two sections were ways you can help yourself. But sometimes allowing science to help us is important too.
When you feel like you have done just about all you can do to deal with your insomnia, you may need a little helping hand. Here are some ways medical help – both natural and through a doctor – can help you better cope with your insomnia.
1. Take An All-Natural Sleep Aid First
Before you take any sort of prescription sleep aid, see if a natural option helps your sleep. These often come with fewer side effects, and you don’t have to worry about dependency.
Here are some fabulous all-natural vitamins, minerals, hormones, and herbs that can be very beneficial:
- Vitamin B6
- Valerian Root Extract
- Passion Flower Extract
- Magnolia Bark Extract
- Jujube Extract
- Chamomile Flower Extract
2. Consider Your Sleep Medication Options
Choosing to start a sleep medication should not be taken lightly. Some come with a chance of dependence and many can come with many different side effects like:
- Drowsiness (nice for at night; problematic during the day)
- Memory problems
- Stomach issues like diarrhea
Ask your doctor many questions before starting these pills. Do your own research. Ask about things like drinking alcohol while taking them and how to quit the pills safely.
Once you have done all the necessary research, you may find a prescription option will be helpful to you.
3. Get Tested
There are many different types of sleep tests doctors can perform to diagnosis your sleep problems. From sleep studies where you are monitored throughout the night to psychiatric evaluations, you should be able to get to the root of your insomnia issues.
Your insomnia could be a side effect from anxiety disorders or depression. You could be dealing with sleep apnea or unknown sleepwalking.
Once you know exactly what you are dealing with, you can use the proper coping techniques to make it better.
Coping With Your Insomnia
When you begin accepting what is, making healthy sleep choices everyday, and getting additional medical help when necessary, you can begin to do one of two things:
- Get rid of your insomnia entirely
- Improve the insomnia and its side effects to make life more manageable
Insomnia is a very difficult condition that affects so many people. Though it can feel hopeless in the middle of the night, there are many tools available to you. Talk with your doctor and start implementing some of these coping mechanisms today.