Today I’m going to talk about how I manage (not cure) my sleep-maintenance insomnia without the use of sleeping pills. I have used medication in the past but it’s really only a short-term solution. For those of you that aren’t aware, S-M insomnia is when a person has no trouble falling asleep, but wakes up in the middle of the night and struggles to get back to sleep. I have been dealing with this since I gave birth (you can read more about why here), but I have to say, I’m 100 times better than I used to be and only have the occasional bad night here and there. I want to share what has worked for me in case it helps anybody who stumbles across this post.
TIP #1 – DO NOT LOOK AT THE TIME
This is my number one tip because S-M insomnia is born when we obsess over the amount of hours of sleep we are and aren’t getting. When I was at my worst, I would get so frustrated watching the hours go by until it was time to get up and start the day. I became a mathematician of sorts. A narrative would run through my head that went something like this: if I fall asleep by 10, then I should get at least 8 hours but if I wake up at 1 again that means I’ll only get blah blah blah. I didn’t realise at the time how damaging this was. It was making my insomnia so much worse. When I removed my phone from my room and decided to no longer check the time, I felt my sleep cycle begin to improve. It didn’t matter what time I woke up in the night because I couldn’t label the hour. By disconnecting from my device (not to mention looking at screens won’t help anyway), I was less agitated and more relaxed. It has been close to a year that I have been sleeping without my phone in my room and honestly, I can’t go back now. It means I have time to read or meditate without being tempted to scroll until the early hours. It also helps me naturally wind down before bed without the interference of electronics.
TIP #2 – TRY NOT TO CARE
This is a hard one, believe me I know. It is so difficult not to care that you’ve only had two hours of sleep when you feel like a depressed zombie…but ironically that is one of the main ways to manage insomnia. When you care about the amount of sleep you’re getting, you’ll get less. Does this make sense? I had to tell myself that no matter what happened, I would be okay the next day. I would function and get the rest I needed. When I used to get up in the night to go to the toilet, I would come back to bed and say to myself: oh no, now you’re awake and you’re really going to struggle to sleep and you’ve only got X amount of hours before you have to get up. Do you think this helped me sleep? NOPE! Now I don’t focus on that. If I get up in the night to use the bathroom, I go back to bed and just focus on boring things. Pretty soon, I’m asleep again!
TIP #3 – GO TO SLEEP WHEN YOU’RE ACTUALLY SLEEPY
Sounds like a no-brainer but I would purposely try to fall asleep earlier than my body was ready, because I have a toddler that gets up around 7am and I wanted to maximise the amount of hours I got. See, again I was obsessed with hours. No wonder I developed S-M insomnia! Once I started staying up a bit longer and reading, I felt myself begin to get naturally heavy. That was the perfect time to put down the book and turn out the light. When I operate this way, I tend to sleep all night long and very peacefully. It also helps that once again, I’m a.) not aware of the time and b.) that I’m mentally satisfied with staying up a bit later, even if that means I don’t get as many hours of sleep.
TIP #4 – EXERCISE/SEE DAYLIGHT
Exercising has really helped me naturally tire out my physical body so it is ready for sleep. Try to make sure you’re not exercising too close to the evening, unless it’s a gentle yoga flow. I ride my bike whilst my daughter naps (husband works from home so he’s right next to her room – don’t worry!) and it has done wonders for my sleep. I get exposed to daylight which in turn regulates my circadian rhythm and ensures my muscles are worked enough to warrant a good rest.
TIP #5 – AVOID CAFFEINE – ESPECIALLY AFTER 3PM
I don’t consume caffeine (aside from some occasional chocolate) but this is a good tip for those coffee lovers out there. You don’t want to be too wired before bed. That is not going to help you wind down and achieve that sleepy feeling. Try to limit your caffeine intake or just have it in the morning. This also applies to not eating a heavy meal right before bed, so as to avoid indigestion.
TIP #6 – SET UP A SLEEPY ATMOSPHERE
I love to take a steamy hot bath before bed and relax my muscles. It just gets me in the mood for a nice, long sleep. It’s about setting up the right atmosphere. You want to make sure your bed is cosy, you’re not too hot or cold and there are no noise/light distractions. I use a fan to drown out any sounds and make sure I’m wearing loose, comfortable clothing to bed. It’s about tricking the mind. That’s all it is.
TIP #7 – USE YOUR BED FOR SLEEP AND ONLY SLEEP
Finally, you need your mind to associate bed with sleep. If you do everything in there from eat to watch television to work, you may find it harder to fall asleep when the sun goes down. I only use my bed for sleep (and reading beforehand). I try to stay active and alert during the day and I refuse to nap because then it will be harder for me to sleep later.
I hope these tips were helpful for anybody suffering with insomnia. If you have ruled out any medical conditions (for example, sleep apnea), please know that it is probably mental and you may need to work on reframing how your brain views sleep. Counselling may even help target the anxiety behind it. Feel free to leave any suggestions below. Thanks so much for reading!
Peace & Love xoxo