While you might be accustomed to keeping yourself awake all night working furiously to finish your essay/lab report or cram for an exam, I can think of a reason why you’d forego sleep entirely, for all the wrong reasons. Insomnia, in my experience, isn’t discussed that much amongst students despite it being quite prevalent amongst the adult population (it affects up to a third of adults in the UK!). Although insomnia isn’t well understood and doesn’t have a definitive ‘cure’, it’s not the end of the world. If you’re like me and have experienced annoying restless nights, coupled with the inevitable anxiety/panic that comes with insomnia, then following these next steps will help you drift off much more easily next time you hit the pillow.
1) Cut the caffeine
You’ve heard it a thousand times, but really, cut your caffeine consumption by at least the late afternoon if you really struggle with insomnia. This doesn’t just extend to coffee, but involves any caffeinated or energy drinks, black teas, and even dark chocolate. Caffeine affects us all differently but some individuals tend to feel the effects of caffeine for much longer than usual, so it’s imperative to reduce your caffeine intake first to tackle insomnia.
2) Put your phone/laptop away before bed
Admittedly, I find this hard to do myself as I’m glued to my phone or laptop for most of the evening. However, it’s well known that the blue light emitted from your screens negatively affects your level of melatonin (the hormone your body produces to signal bed-time and induce sleepiness). If it’s crucial that you must be on your phone/laptop at night, then try downloading a programme like Flux, which makes your laptop screen a warmer colour to help you feel sleepy at night (I’ve been using it for years and it works!), similarly the ‘night mode’ option on your phone has the same effect.
3) Exercise earlier in the day/do night-time yoga
By tiring yourself out with exercise in the early part of the day (not in the evening though because it can have the opposite effect), you’ll make it easier for yourself to fall asleep as your mind is more cleared. Even a simple, brisk walk in some fresh air will do some good, and gentle yoga stretches at nighttime results in a calmer state of mind. So the next time you have a sleepless spell, reduce intense exercise in the evening, and increase gentle stretching instead.
4) Adjust your diet
I’m not calling for a radical change in your eating habits, but increasing your intake in foods such as oats and black cherries (both high in melatonin), dairy, spinach and walnuts (all high in tryptophan – another super important compound for regulating sleep cycles) will definitely have a positive effect on your quality of sleep. Some people also take melatonin supplements directly (though beware, these can make your dreams quite trippy!). For a more complete list of foods to eat before sleeping, look no further.
5) Use a lavender pillow spray/calming body products
Lavender is awesome. It has been proven to have super calming effects on your body, and especially on your sympathetic nervous system (which is in charge of your fight-or-flight-response, and hence anxiety). Lightly misting your pillow with any soothing lavender scent instantly calms you down enough to settle into a deep and comfortable sleep, and the one pictured here (‘thisworks deep sleep pillow spray’ is my all-time favourite to use). Alternatively, Lush’s Sleepy Body Lotion has been praised as a ‘miracle product’ by insomniacs, and Lush’s Twilight Body Spray has also received overwhelming attention for its remarkable effects.
6) Take a cold shower and have a warm drink afterwards
Forget what you’ve heard about taking hot baths before going to sleep, because while baths certainly do help you relax, a huge part of setting the right conditions for you to fall asleep easily has a lot to do with your core body temperature (which I will also discuss later on). Many sources mention the benefits of taking a cold shower and slowly enjoying a warm drink afterwards as a sure fire way of falling asleep instantly. Users in Reddit forums have given this technique as a ‘life pro tip’ too (here and here)!
7) Sleep teas
Sipping on a hot brew before you sleep is never a bad idea. Great options include chamomile, lavender, and valerian root. Sleep teas don’t just benefit your sleep quality, but also have great effects on your health and wellbeing. However, stick to strictly herbal infusions and stay clear of caffeinated black teas!
8) Keep your room temperature stable (and cool)
Although it’s tempting (now that winter is approaching) to crank on the central heating and feel extra toasty in bed, the actual optimal temperature for your bedroom should be no higher than 18.5°C. In order to fall asleep, your body temperature actually dips and a cooler room will help ease your body into this transition of sleep. Let’s put it this way, your bedroom should feel like a cave (but obviously make it look as cosy and Urban Outfitter-esque to your heart’s content), in the sense that it should be dark, cool, and quiet.
9) Try this deep breathing technique
This incredible technique is akin to meditation and falls along the lines of yoga-inspired deep breathing, but you should really follow the ‘4-7-8’ breathing exercise. Simply close your eyes, relax your limbs, and inhale deeply through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then slowly exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. This works by effectively slowing down your heart rate drastically so that you’re forced into a state of relaxation. Any sense of anxiety or panic is pushed aside, and honestly I tried this once and couldn’t even remember falling asleep afterwards – it’s that effective. It’s been said to make you fall asleep in 60 seconds by various sources, so definitely give it a try.
10) Read a book/distract yourself
If all else fails, tossing and turning in bed for the next few hours will not work, and you can trust me on this. The best thing to do if you’ve tried and failed the countless methods of falling asleep is to simply get out of bed and move into a different space. A lot of the struggle with insomnia has psychological roots so it may be you just need to occupy another room, and distance yourself from the anxiety associated with the pillow. Pick up a book, or distract your mind in other ways because if your mind isn’t ready to fall asleep, neither are you. You might find yourself dozing off on the sofa or in your reading nook a while later, and that would be the right time to return to your bed for a good, sound sleep.