Insomnia: How to Stop It
The Hope of Sleep
Tired? For many people the answer is, was, and seemingly will always be: Oh, yes, so very. There are many causes of sleep disorders. Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which a person has problems falling and staying asleep, and wakes often during the night, for 30 days or more. For many (myself included) the problem starts as secondary Insomnia, meaning the problem sleeping begins from a secondary source; examples are stress/anxiety, depression, pain, medication, drugs/alcohol, asthma, etc. However, when a pattern of irregular sleep begins, we often find that simply removing the initial cause does not cure us of what is now primary insomnia, sleeping problems not related to another source. The pattern of sleepless nights, fatigue, daytime napping, weakened immune system, irritability, troubles with focus and memory, create their own separate problem, a new monster that stands alone.
My own story began with irregular sleeping patterns due to lifestyle. I was working nights, was often sedentary, used nicotine and caffiene, and had little respect for sleep or taking care of myself. Over time stress and depression compounded my sleeping problems. As I moved into my mid 20s I no longer enjoyed my self proclaimed insomnia. It was becoming a larger and larger issue. I began to change my lifestyle. But despite these efforts my sleeping became more and more irregular, until I reached a point where I was awake every night till the wee hours of the morning, dozed irregularly till it was time to go to work, was exhausted all day, struggled to stay awake in the early evening, then was wall eyed and anxious come bed time. Nights I didn't have to work the following day I simply stayed awake at night, active, then slept during my day off.
"In it's early stages, insomnia is almost a temple, in which those of us who need to think, or suffer darkly, take refuge." Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette
When the persistent irregular sleep of five years or so moved into a nightly torment, and my days began to blur and smolder, I decided to make it my one focus to create healthy, easy, balm-like sleep. I knew that my health, mental and physical, depended on it, and that any other goals in my life needed to be secondary to creating healthy sleeping patterns.
The first things I did were:
1.Remove any and all substances from the game. I was no longer smoking cigarettes. I reduced my coffee intake to one cup in the morning with breakfast. I did not drink any caffeinated beverages during the day (certainly nothing after 4pm). I did not drink any alcohol. I did not use any sleeping medication (prescription or over the counter). I did not eat anything after 5pm, and I looked at my white sugar intake and reduced it throughout the day. Some of these were easy and mostly already in place, some were difficult and required substantial change, which takes time and repetitive effort. My sleeping did not improve when I was making these changes. Contrarily my not drinking coffee during the day, and not having any alcoholic drinks after work soured my mood further.
2.Create and adhere to a regiment of sleeping and waking. This is the hardest and most important part. I had to change jobs to do this, change socializing schedules (which in some cases knocked a few friends out of my regular loop), and make specific requests of anyone I shared a home or bed with. Based on my work schedule at the time my system involved turning off the TV and computer at 7pm. I would read and/or take a bath, write, create art, and meditate. Nothing loud, bright, or too exciting. Relaxing is good. I got in bed at 9:30pm. I got out of bed at 6:00am. I did this seven days a week. I did not go out at night past 9pm, and I did not sleep in on my days off.
3.Create a sweet sleeping environment. Your bedroom should be cool, clean and neat, dark and as quiet as possible. TVs and computers should be off after 7pm and should ideally not be in the room at all. Get rid of lit digital clocks. Set an alarm and hide your clock out of sight. Clean sheets are a must. If you tossed and turned the night before change your sheets (and don't toss and turn, but we'll get to that). Get rid of clutter, get good shades. If there is a lot of noise in your house at night get a white noise machine. If you share a bed, and it disrupts your sleep, you may need to ask for a reprieve and or sleep alone for awhile. Sounds drastic, but if you're not sleeping, night after night, and you want that to change, you need to be proactive, and put your health first.
4.Be active and relaxed during your waking hours. I worked 40 hours a week at the time, and my job was physical, but I added one hour of walking seven days a week to my regime. This was good in that it burned up energy, but it also helped relax me and cleared my mind. Exercise improves mood, reduces stress, and builds lean muscle, all of which help with sleeping patterns. I also meditated to reduce stress created from work, life, and the living breathing world. Don't nap during the day until your sleeping patterns are back to normal. Don't stoke the fires of the worry mill. Don't think about sleeping when you're awake. Arrange your day so you are physically tired at night, and mentally quiet. Keep a gratitude journal and write in it in the evening. Listing all the good things in your life, big or small, is a calming and humbling activity.
After months of implementing and practicing I slowly began to notice improvements. I had to keep a positive attitude, remind myself why it was important to sleep, and keep returning to my plan when I got sidelined by particularly bad nights. I found it helpful to not stay in bed after two hours of quiet dark rest. If sleep didn't come I got out of bed and went into a dark room, and read a book with a small book light. I did not eat, turn on the TV, become anxious, make coffee, smoke, turn on bright lights, go online, etc. I just read my book calmly until I became drowsy. Don't stay in bed if you're tossing and turning. Relax your body, and do something quiet.
"Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast."
Today I sleep soundly and wake rested. I have survived new stresses, 70+ hour work weeks, late nights out with friends, illnesses that kept me awake many nights in a row, without missing a beat or returning to my old sleep problems. If you are struggling with insomnia you can change it, make a new choice, create a new status quo. Good sleep, a well rested mind and body, and energized and engaging days are available to you, and you deserve to have them!