Defeating the Dream Killer: 5 Steps to Beat Insomnia
How can we help make the world a better place, if we are too tired to perform our best?
I have been suffering from insomnia my whole life. Even as baby I was advised not to nap, otherwise I would not sleep at night. It was a nightmare for my parents.
I am one of those people who do not understand the concept of falling asleep right after you go to bed – it just never happens for me. Sometimes, I find myself thinking about the act of falling asleep itself, and that thought makes me stay alert, staring at the ceiling in the dark. Awake and asleep: the passage from one state to the other is a process that most of us are not even aware of, or don’t even bother to examine closely. Yet, when I think of it, I can’t stop, and will then fail to fall asleep in the next few hours, being too self-conscious of what should be a natural thing.
Still, a good night for me is one where it takes me an hour to fall asleep. That is normal, albeit some people may find this shocking. The only way for it to take me less than 5 minutes is if I drink too much alcohol, and we all know that is not the way to go. If it takes me half an hour on a normal day, hurray, it is an accomplishment.
Every now and then, insomnia invades me even when I am tired and sleepy, using different techniques and mechanisms to make sure she wins, beating even my sleepiness. By turning on the ‘overthinking’ switch, it has me up for hours, counting backwards what little time I have left until the alarm clock goes off. Insomnia when you are already tired is the worst kind of all because you really could use a good night’s sleep, and will feel even more exhausted the next day.
Millennials like myself are suffering more and more from this condition on a regular basis. Stress, anxiety, overthinking, even excitement are all to blame when we fail to fall asleep at night. We are living in a time where we have to process growing amounts of information each day, and our rising dependence on technology right before going to bed does not help in the slightest.
The main issue here is that lack of sleep has all sorts of terrible consequences on our daily lives and in our physical and mental health. How many articles have we read on the importance of sleeping well? How many people have we seen doing sleep therapies and reading books on the subject?
If we have this problem, we should not simply resort to taking sleeping pills to help us fall asleep faster. I am completely against taking pills to induce something that should come naturally to us – of course there are always special cases and situations where it is the only solution, but repeated use only causes complete dependence on these drugs. It may seem like the easiest route to a good night’s sleep, but it’s not something we should be doing often. If we are not sleeping, we need to deal with the cause of the problem responsible for preventing sleep, instead of clouding it with medication that is not really solving anything at all.
There are a few things that do help, however. The fact that I still suffer from insomnia often is only due to my lack of persistence in taking every measure to prevent it. Here are five tips that actually work, and are even better if you use them together frequently:
- Stay away from technology at night
Yes. It sucks in our time, and is nearly impossible to accomplish, but this one is in fact the most efficient, and I speak from personal experience (even though I have not tried this one more than three or four times exactly because I couldn’t bring myself to avoid my smart phone and laptop at night – and yes, you’ve guessed it: I am writing this article on my laptop in bed during an episode of insomnia. So, yeah, I’m doing all the wrong things). The light emitted by devices such as laptops, tablets and smart phones promotes wakefulness, and that is the opposite of what we are trying to do here.
If you organize yourself, you can actually make sure you stay away from these devices at least a couple of hours before you go to sleep. In these two hours, you should only focus on doing things that you enjoy and are independent from the stress of your everyday life, like taking a hot bath whilst listening to your favourite music or reading a book or magazine (on paper, of course!), or spending quality time with your family and friends. I like drinking tea after dinner, it is a sacred ritual that I find particularly soothing – even though camomile tea itself does not make me sleep any better.
- Do physical exercise – whatever works for you
In my case, I need a balanced mix of intensive cardio and muscle training at least twice a week with another two yoga or pilates sessions. The first ones I use to spend my bad energies, and the latter helps me to focus on breathing deeply for an hour while stretching and fortifying every muscle on by body, something I never remember to do. It also improves my meditation skills (so far, very weak), which are essential for an overthinker like myself. When I do this regularly, sleep actually comes easier.
- Don’t go to bed if you are not sleepy
This is not always obvious, especially if you are counting the hours until you have to wake up in the morning, and feel like forcing yourself to sleep at a specific time is a good idea. Still, if you are not in the least sleepy, avoid your bed. If you absolutely must be there, at least read a book until you do feel sleepier. Only then turn off the light. And stay away from your smart phone!
- Try alternative treatment
I’ve been meaning to try acupuncture for a while now, specifically to help me sleep better. I have friends who have tried it for the same reason and it worked miracles for them. Still, let’s face it, all of us will have a bad night every once in a while, but if we can reduce the frequency of insomnia, we should try whatever technique that both works and is healthy.
I did try relaxing massages and homeopathic treatment and all of that helped me a lot – if only I could have a massage every night before going to bed!
- Write things down
Most of us insomniacs are constantly worried about things (many of them not that important!), which can keep us wide-awake at night. But if you try this exercise, things might just get a little better (it is one of my favourites because it actually works for me): write down on paper everything that is worrying you or that might worry you in the future, as well as a list of things that you need to do the following day and week, so that you don’t spend time you should be sleeping making mental lists of things you can’t forget to do in the morning. Setting goals for each week is also a good idea.
If you do this every night, you will know that you won’t forget any of these things, and that the problems and things that are disturbing you won’t go anywhere, but you needn’t be worrying about them in bed. If you have something that is troubling you more than normal, spend some time writing every detail down and you’ll see how it can help you get rid of the heavy burden, and even find a solution for the problem – or, worst case scenario, it is a great way to organize your thoughts.
If we do all these five techniques in a consistent, assiduous fashion, things will get better. It would undoubtedly be easier if we could be one of those heavy sleepers who do not even have to think about any of this, but hey, we were born this way. How can we help make the world a better place, if we are too tired to perform our best? Let’s all go get some decent sleep before we start changing the world.