Difficulty in sleeping is something that affects us all in varying degrees and at varying times. I’ve had a lot of trouble with sleep throughout my life, with recurring nightmares, to frequent sleep paralysis (which is an issue some other family members of mine have too), and just not being able to get to sleep properly or at all. This was one of the things I talked about with my IAPT advisor last year, and he gave me some good advice on sleeping and how to combat sleep difficulties which I will now share with you all!
He actually gave these to me in the form of a booklet with a lot of interesting information on sleep and how the kind of sleep we need varies depending on age, levels of activity in one’s life, and generally from person to person. From that, one of the most important things I can share with you before I give the list of advice is this: there is no single normal amount of hours a person needs for sleep. Studies have shown that people can vary between needing as little as 4 to as much as 10 hours per night, and the amount we need often tends to lower with age. So don’t worry about “getting your eight hours”, worry about what works for you.
1. Stop trying to sleep
Instead, attempt to put yourself in a relaxed, calm frame of mind. Maybe put on some music, change the lighting in the room, turn the pillow over to the cold side, and just daydream about the things that make you happy. When you force yourself to close your eyes and stay super still, straining yourself to lie in place and actively trying to halt your thinking it only causes stress and a distraction. Just calmly let yourself know that you probably will fall asleep eventually, and do what helps you relax. For me, a low hum of noise is soothing to me and even more soothing that silence. Music distracts me personally, but the sound of people talking is perfect. Podcasts, Let’s Plays, or audiobooks are all things I use to help me relax and eventually sleep.
2. Force yourself to stay awake
It doesn’t work for everyone, but some people find that forcing themselves to be awake actually increases their urge to fall asleep. Strange, but potentially effective.
3. Change your surroundings
Often times our surroundings can negatively affect our moods in subtle ways. Check if the room you’re sleeping in is a relaxing space to be in. For example, if your room is messy that can make it difficult to sleep because clutter can make a room feel claustrophobic, affect the temperature, smell, and just be a constant reminder that you have things to, then creating a surreptitious level of anxiety in you that inhibits your ability to relax. Maybe tidy up, throw some things away, change your sleeping position, adjust the lighting, or move things around in your room until it feels more “relaxing” in whatever way works for you.
From the way I’ve talked so extensively about mindfulness
on my blog, you had to expect it! But honestly, doing a long relaxing meditation like a Body Scan, or even a short breathing space can really improve your sleep immediately and long-term. It’s a way of clearing your mind and getting into a place of calm and relaxation, perfect to get yourself on the way to sleeping.
5. Get more active
Even if it’s just walking more often, doing something to exert a little more energy during your day can help with sleeping. Inactivity can breed low mood, anxiety, and stress about needing to do more but not knowing what to do etc. Going for walks, running, or going to the gym can give you space to think and clear your mind, can make you tired enough to want to sleep later on, and can actually pump you up to want to get more done during the day. That being said, it’s best not to exercise just before bed because it can actually keep you awake longer.
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6. Write down your thoughts
If you have been lying in bed and just can’t seem to shut your mind off no matter how hard you try, get out of bed. Get up, get a pen and a piece of paper, and find somewhere comfortable to sit and write. Make a list of the things you’ve been relentlessly thinking about, problems or worries you’ve had that are bothering you, even the smallest thing, and any of the things you can do to address or solve those problems later on. Once you’ve done that, get back into bed and give yourself a little mental or verbal reassurance that you’ve done all you can to address your problems for now. This is something that has worked numerous times for me, and I highly recommend it if you’re unable to stop thinking or worrying in bed.
7. Change your pre-bed drinking and eating habits
Hey, you might be one of those people who don’t get energy from coffee or fizzy drinks, and that’s great for you, but you’re still putting caffeine in your body which is a stimulant. It might not be perking you up, but it’s probably affecting the ease with which you can get to sleep so avoid those things for up to four hours before you plan to sleep. If you weren’t having sleep issues that would be fine, but when you are already having a sleep problem it’s best to eliminate all probable factors.
8. Have a bedtime routine
If you always brush your teeth, put on your pyjamas, drink a cup of cool water, say good night to all your stuffed animals, and do one full rotation of the Macarena before going to bed, eventually your body will start to associate that sequence of things with sleep and make you pre-emptively tired. Figure out a pre-sleep routine that makes you feel ready for bed and stick to it!
9. Make sure your bed is associated with sleep
This works really well but is one of the most difficult methods to execute for me. I haven’t been able to do it successfully. In fact right now, I’m typing this out on my bed. The basic premise is to not do anything other than rest on your bed. No writing, texting, exercise, reading, anything that isn’t associated with relaxation and sleep (apart from sex I suppose, but that could be another way to help you sleep honestly). It’s similar to the whole bedtime routine in that once you get into bed you’ll start associating it with sleeping; making it much easier to sleep once you’re there.
10. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed
Something we all do is lie awake at night, frustrated at not being able to sleep, and all that really does is create a cycle of sleeplessness. You can’t sleep, it makes you stressed, your stress level increases making it harder to sleep, so you get more stressed because you still can’t sleep and on and on. If you’ve been lying awake for 30 minutes to an hour and nothing happens then get up, have a little walk around, clear your head, have some Horlicks or warm milk, read, listen to something relaxing or boring, and just let yourself get more relaxed before you try sleeping again.
Hopefully, at least one of these tips will work for you, but I will say that if you are suffering from insomnia or restless sleep and the things you try don’t seem to be working:
- Sleeping tablets are sometimes necessary but aren’t the only way to get some sleep and shouldn’t be your first option.
- It’s more than okay to speak to a professional about sleep problems, as often times they are a symptom of something much bigger that you may not be able to tackle on your own. You don’t have to struggle on your own.
- These won’t necessarily provide immediate results! It can often take weeks to develop new sleeping habits, and sometimes keeping up with these things can be difficult. Don’t beat yourself up, don’t give up straight away, and believe in yourself and your willpower. Your hard work will pay off in the long run.
|Image credited to Elwood H. Smith. Found here|