3 Vital Lessons About Insomnia and Sleep

Understanding insomnia and how to overcome it.

Stress 13th Jan, 2021

Approximately 1 in 3 people suffer from insomnia at some point in their life. It may be short term, perhaps connected to anxiety around a major event like an interview, or moving house. Alternatively, you may have difficulties for months, or even years. A better understanding of insomnia, it’s causes and the stories people tell themselves, could help you manage the condition and get some sleep.

What Is Insomnia:

The first step is to look at the symptoms of insomnia. They include, struggling to get to sleep, waking up repeatedly during the night, or waking up early and being unable to get back to sleep. You may also feel tired, irritable and have difficulty concentrating during the day. It could also be difficult to nap during the day, something an insomniac needs to avoid, even if this is something you usually do if you are tired. If you recognise any of these symptoms then evaluate the potential causes below and make a plan to manage your sleep routine.

Common Causes Of Insomnia:

There are several potential causes for insomnia, ranging from issues you may have control over like a room being too hot or cold, noise, an uncomfortable bed, alcohol/drugs, caffeine, or nicotine. Other causes include stress, anxiety, depression, jet lag and shift work. Although these are harder things to change, or control, you can still establish a sleep routine which often makes a big difference.

There is also a common danger, once insomnia is a problem, of unconscious storytelling. This is where you tell yourself something over and over again. For example, if your problem is getting up, when you wake up you may be repeating ‘I can’t get up, I’ve never been able to get up’ in your mind. Another one is ‘If I don’t go to sleep now, I’ll be tired tomorrow’. The worry this thought creates makes it more difficult to sleep. When you know this happens and tune into it, you can challenge, or ignore the story. You could even replace it with the thought ‘No matter what happens I will be ok/I can manage.’ This greatly reduces its power and may help you overcome one cause of insomnia. To help with the other causes, you need to review your sleeping habits, take a look below and start to make changes which may help.

Reviewing Your Sleeping Habits:

Taking a look at your sleeping habits and making a few changes could make a big difference. You need to plan for several hours before you intend to sleep. Firstly, it is wise to avoid eating a big meal late at night. Secondly do not smoke, drink tea, coffee (or any caffeinated drink), or alcohol up to 6 hours before going to bed. The next step is to create a routine for yourself, children/ partners/housemates may disrupt this at times, that is ok, just stick to a routine as often as you can. This includes going to bed and getting up at the same time everyday, even after a bad night’s sleep. The knock on effect only gets worse if you sleep in, potentially making you late, or meaning you don’t have time to do some work/chores. This potentially adds to your stress or anxiety, making it harder to sleep, which is how getting up at the same time everyday improves the chances of a better night’s sleep later on. In addition, try to relax for 1 hour before you go to bed by having a bath, listening to a podcast, reading a book. Do not watch tv, scroll through social media, play games, or otherwise use your smartphone/tablet etc during this time. The bright light makes you more awake and the activity stimulates, instead of calms, your brain which makes it hard to sleep immediately afterwards.

Other practical areas you can review include making sure your bedroom is dark and quiet and/or using an eye mask and ear plugs. If, like many people, you live in a noisy area with bright street lights, you may be surprised how much difference this can make. It is also important to ensure your pillows, mattress and covers are comfortable, if finances are a problem, check to see if you are eligible for any help. There are charities and social services which provide new beds free of charge. In addition, you do not want to be too warm, or cold, as either extreme, especially being hot, makes it difficult to sleep, a lighter cover for the warmer months may be a wise investment. Finally, regular exercise, such as a 1 hour walk, can make a real difference, as you get physically tired. Make sure you finish at least 4 hours before you go to bed, to allow all the endorphins, adrenaline etc to subside. Long term insomniacs may need professional help. If you still have 4 hours or less sleep, 3 months after establishing a routine, you should talk to your doctor, or therapist and decide on the best solution for your needs.

Remember, this is a common problem, shared by many, not something you need to feel embarrassed about, talk to your friends and family, they may be able to help, or share what works for them. There are many practical solutions above that you can try, plus additional ideas that you can experiment with. Try the suggestions outlined individually, in combinations and all together, until you find out what works for you.

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