If you know me, or are familiar with my blog, then you might already know that I'm a recovering Insomniac. I use a capital "I" because insomnia loomed large in my life on and off for years, plaguing my nights and casting a shadow over my days. In many ways it defined me because it so fully impacted how I showed up in the world. In my desperation to sleep more than 3 hours a night I tried every remedy out there, including spending almost 20 years taking everything from Ambien to Clonazepam to Trazadone in the quest for a full night of sleep. I don't recommend that particular approach.
I'm happy to say that I no longer take any prescribed sleep medications on a regular basis. I found a great doctor who helped me understand why my insomnia was happening, helped me slowly wean off of the medication and ultimately taught me new ways of coping with middle of the night wakefulness. While my insomnia will probably never be fully gone, it is mostly in remission and for that I am supremely grateful.
There's an epidemic of sleeplessness in our culture that comes from too much cortisol and other hormones, ridiculous amounts of sugar in our diets, too much stress, too many screens and multitudes of things constantly clamoring for our attention.
Because I inadvertently became an unwilling expert in dealing with this, people often ask me what I did to quiet my insomnia.
Here are my top 8 tips:
1. Change your routine.
As Albert Einstein said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result". If what you are doing is not working then start by mixing things up a bit. Try reading an actual book instead of reading on a kindle. Try eating dinner an hour earlier. Notice if anything changes when you crack the window for some fresh air or sleep with some earplugs. Try not napping or try taking a short nap. Shake it up and see what happens!
2. Trick your brain.
This is my favorite tip and it's one that I learned from my super fabulous sleep doctor. Sometimes the mere anxiety of not being able to fall back to sleep can keep you awake. Try downloading a really interesting podcast or great audio book onto your phone. Have it cued up so that when you wake up in the middle of the night you can just press play. This will take your mind off of any anxiety (which you may not even be aware of) and trick your brain into paying attention to something else. This is an exception to strict sleep hygiene but it works like a charm for me! Keep your phone across the room (so you aren't tempted to check Facebook right before bed!), face down, with your headphones plugged in if necessary. It may seem counterintuitive, but the more engaging the podcast is the better. This has worked like a charm for me. My only recommendation is that if you use an audiobook, take a screen shot of where you start, otherwise you may have a hard time finding your place again in the morning!
3. G'night, Sugar.
I recommend avoiding refined sugar as a regular practice but it's especially important when you are in an insomnia spiral. Sugar can add to adrenal fatigue and in general is a stressor on your whole system. Be extra careful of having it at night if you're having trouble sleeping because sugar and other processed foods can cause a temporary energy boost which is not what you need when you are getting ready to wind down.
4. Focus on your breathing.
I've had some luck with a breathing exercise known as the "4 -7- 8 technique". It's based on pranayama, an ancient Indian practice that means “regulation of breath.” When we inhale we activate the sympathetic nervous system and when we exhale we activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The exercise is described by Dr. Andrew Weil as “a natural tranquilizer” that helps ease the body into a state of calmness and relaxation. Simply breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and slowly breathe out for 8 seconds. Dr. Weil says that the most important part of this exercise is the last 8 seconds because the oxygen will fill your lungs and then circulate throughout your body - and that's the part that produces the relaxation effect.
5. Darken your bedroom.
Whether you use blackout shades or a sleep mask, having a dark room helps the brain and body settle down and remember that it's nighttime. This seems like a little thing but I assure you it can really make a difference!
6. Keep your room cool.
We sleep much better when we are not overheated. In the winter this means turning down the heat at night to at least 65 degrees. You can always keep an extra blanket around if needed. This is especially helpful for those of us who are dealing with increased insomnia and hot flashes as a result of perimenopause.
7. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
There is truth to the concept of setting your body clock. Try doing this every day for at least 3 weeks to teach your body when it's time to sleep and when it's time to get up - even on the weekends - and see if you notice a difference.
8. Avoid large meals late in the evening.
Don't dine after 9:00! When your digestive system is at rest it's easier for your whole body to be at rest. If you must snack then make it a protein snack -- a slice of turkey, a handful of nuts or a spoonful of almond butter are all better choices then chips, popcorn or cookies. Another reason to avoid late night eating: your body is more likely to store those calories as fat, which can cause weight gain. Instead of snacking, try tiny amount of honey. Some people have good results with having 1-2 teaspoons of raw honey before bedtime. The theory is that this can re-stock the liver with glycogen and help your body get through the night before the brain triggers a crisis search for fuel, which would normally wake you up.
In general, when changing a sleep pattern or behavior, give it 7-10 days before throwing in the towel. It takes at least that long for your body to adjust and adapt to the changes. As for me, I can't overstate how much better I feel now that I am sleeping better. Insomnia still comes skulking around every now and then and she is still a b*tch- but I am no longer her bitch.
xo , Lisa
PS - If you want to know more insomnia tips, grab a copy of my free ebook, 50 ways to beat insomnia. And as always, feel free to email me with any questions,