Tips for the Casual Insomniac

According to the National Sleep Foundation, insomnia is related to a range of psychiatric and physical causes. Anything from an underlying sleep disorder like sleep apnea to being a symptom of depression, insomnia is loosely defined as an inability to fall or stay asleep. There are several ways to treat insomnia, such as a medically prescribed sleep aid or practicing cognitive behavior therapy. Basically, you go in through the body or the mind, and disregarding that ever present false dichotomy, those methods will inform each other.

I am not a doctor, nor have I ever been officially diagnosed by one with insomnia. However, for about a year now I have had intermittent bouts of insomnia. Most often it is related to my other issues with anxiety that have become linked to my ability to sleep. Spending the night laying awake and watching the hours tick by is one of the more tortuous experiences I’ve had, especially when these nights come two, three, or four in a row. By listening to both solicited and unsolicited advice, I’ve compiled my list of sometimes helpful, and honestly sometimes not, tips for occasional sleeplessness.

1. Kind of boring podcasts! One of the worst parts of not being able to sleep is listening to your own thoughts as, if you’re like me, you start to obsess about whether you’ll ever sleep again. Audio is helpful because you can keep your eyes closed and just focus on the soothing tones of NPR wash over you. The trick is to not listen to anything too engaging; you need it to hold your attention, but you also need to be keeping your heart rate down. My favorites: NPR, or John Oliver clips.

2. Natural sleeping aids! Your local health food store, Trader Joes, or a well stocked CVS, will have supplements that are thought to help sleep. Almost every major tea brand makes a bedtime tea, as well as endless versions of chamomile which is known for relaxation. Melatonin is trendy right now, either plain or certain types that have L-theanine and 5HTP, other natural compounds that help sleep. Some cold medications can make you drowsy, but I would discourage any use of over the counter or prescribed medications without consulting your doctor. My favorites: Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime tea and Trader Joes’ Calming Sleep Formula.

3. Stay active and away from your bed! If you’ve been having chronic sleeping problems, tiring your body out can overpower your mind’s racing. Walk around the block a couple times or do a cardio workout because any movement is better than none when you’re in bed at night and you’re wide awake. If you can’t workout, then at least don’t sit in your bed. Go to a coffee shop or watch your show on your living room couch, just change the scenery and keep your bedroom as a space for sleeping.

When you are suffering from moderate to extreme insomnia, it is work to break yourself out of the cycle. Generally, your body wants to sleep. It is tiring work being a person. Your body doesn’t really want to still be awake as the sun rises either. That’s why the biggest tip is to practice relaxation techniques, whether it be meditation or researching cognitive behavioral therapy. You have to train your mind to think sleepy thoughts, to let your concentration wander until you forget you’re trying to sleep in the first place. If you can slow your breathing and your heartbeat, the dark and the quiet may just work magic. If you fall asleep and then wake up, take that as proof that your body can actually rest and you will be able to do it again. Best of luck and sweet dreams!

Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2, 3

References: Sleep Foundation