Me and sleep have a fractious relationship. When I was a kid, I felt sleep was a waste of time and I avoided it at all costs. As a grown arse adult, I still feel that way but these days I actually would like to sleep so I can, you know, function.
So, I lovingly refer to my inability to sleep, or inability to sleep well/ consistently, as the insomnia demon. It something that has appeared on and off since my GCSE’s, with the longest stretches being when I first moved to Uni and during the last two years at my old job. Now, as you can probably guess by that list there, stress is fairly major factor but this is the first time it’s hung around for years, rather than being a mild annoying visitor.
Right now, I am falling asleep late (around 2) but I have good, deep sleep when I do. Plus, because my office is one foot from my bed, it means I still get around 7 hours sleep at the moment. The tricky thing is, if I get too much sleep, my dreams get a little bit… fucking mental. Anything more than 8 hours every night, leads to trippy as hell dreams that feel so real that I don’t feel like I’ve slept anyway.
This is a tricky line to walk and it means I’ve developed a series of things to help keep the delicate balance in check and since I’ve tried most things besides sleeping tablets, I thought I’d share some tips on how I deal with it/ function. (Although, if you’re the kind of insomniac that must have no noise and darkness, I’m not sure I’ll be much help to you.)
- Use some kind of watch or sleep tracking app that is part of a general health tracking apps. Helpful so you can see trends in poor sleeping patterns. i.e. I did less exercise this week and slept worse, or my heart rate has been high- this means I need to prepare for sleep to be worse Also, helpful proof to show a boss if this starts to affect you at work.
- Audio books (or podcasts if that’s your thing). This has a few functions:
-if you’re not sleeping because you’re overthinking and your thoughts are whirling then it gives you something else to focus on besides the mental track in your mind.
-Or, instead of lying there thinking SLEEP, I MUST SLEEP, you simply listen until it carries you off.
-it creates a mode you associate with bed time and sleep. Although beware of any books you begin to associate with bad nights, don’t listen to them for a while.
-lastly, and I cannot stress this enough, it isn’t a device with a screen- watching videos and t.v. will not work. It’s a proven thing that screens and sleep don’t mix.
(My friend also swears by rainforest sounds and things like that)
- Start doing little bits of prep so your tired mind can cope better.
I do simple things like:
-I line up the products I need to use in the shower and once done, I put them away, one by one. That way, I don’t have to think about which bit of the process I’ve done yet. Same goes for other keeping the human body healthy care things/ beauty things, do them in an order so muscle memory can take the wheel when you’re tired.
-write everything down, make lists, put everything in your calendar, ask people to email or text you something they need from you/ something you agreed. Your memory will be fucked with prolonged sleep issues.
-before bed time wind down, get everything for the next day ready, handbag, food, outfit (right down to the socks and jewellery).
- How old is your mattress? How old are your pillows and bedding? I cannot stress the difference sorting your sleeping space can make. if it’s within your means, that is! If a new mattress is too pricey supermarkets do pretty cheap duvets etc and mattress toppers.
-this year I bought a new mattress, a memory foam pillow, plus another pillow meant to better for front sleepers. I also have a weighted blanket and use one of those huge body pillows (not the kind that looks like half a dude, it’s just a giant long pillow)
- Lighting. Get the lighting right. If you need pitch darkness, then make that happen. If you need full light, or a night light, find a practical way to make that work. If your partner objects to what you need, try and find a comprise. I don’t like the dark but I’ve managed to get my lighting down to just this colour changing sensory egg shaped light thing- it’s ridiculous and millennial of me, I know, but I’ve slept so much better since using it.
-I also do a phased closing down of the lights, so I’m not smacked straight into NIGHT MODE. First, I turn off the big light and turn on my warm yellow fairy lights and the egg thing. When I’m ready for sleep-sleep, the fairy lights go off. (Again maybe a 27 year shouldn’t need fairy lights to sleep but since you’ve never lived with my insomnia demon, leave me alone!)
- This is very millennial of me again but, meditation or mindfulness apps/ books etc, are incredibly helpful. Just give one of the three minute breathing things ago before bed, I swear it does help. I like the ‘box breathing’ one they have on Calm.
- Exercise, sunlight, water, decent food.
-you are essentially a complicated plant.
You must spend time outdoors, preferably in the day light. You must get enough water. You must get moving a little and fuel your body right. I know these things are really hard if your sleeplessness is linked to other mental health conditions like depression but when you have the energy, try your best to care for yourself.
- Treat yourself like a overgrown toddler and have a bedtime routine. Do things in a certain order, drink the same NON CAFFEINATED drink, have certain outfits and lighting etc- everything you associate with sleep. Do it every night, consistently, where you can. Your brain will naturally associate this with sleepy time after a while.
- Find a task or hobby that helps you think literally nothing and do it as often as you can. For me, time spent colouring, painting or writing is total mind shut down on the task at hand. Same goes for the gym/ exercise. For some, this might just be doing chores (so it has the added benefit of making you clean regularly!). Knowing how to shut off the mind, will help you fall asleep easier.
- No caffeine after 6 and no naps. Not even to help get you through the evening. You must just suffer until it’s time for sleep-sleep. Otherwise you will be stuck in a never ending cycle.
Was this helpful? It’s a bit outside my normal kind of post but I just thought… maybe this would help someone else? Perhaps you could argue that a lot of these are just common sense… but if you’ve never had a complicated relationship with sleep, you wouldn’t understand how easy it is to lose control of the fundamentals like this.
p.s. I am not a health professional and have no background as such, never be afraid to speak to your doctor about this stuff to seek proper advice.
p.p.s I wrote this at 2:30 am, so I am clearly shit at following my own advice!
We will be back to the regular nonsense the next post, I promise!