Are You There Sleep? It’s Me, Insomnia
by Bailey Powell
We’ve all been there: racing thoughts, restlessness, inability to tire, or the good ole toss n’ turn keeping you from a much needed slumber. There aren’t many things more aggravating than the inability to sleep (especially the night before something you need to be well rested for), so I’ve compiled the following in hopes to help you put an end to sleepless nights.
Our bodies are made to be used and, if you think about it, if you’re not properly wearing out your body how can you expect to properly recharge it? Heavy activity=deep sleep. While of course I cannot guarantee a twenty minute jaunt on the treadmill will be the solution to all your sleeping problems it’s a good place to start.
If unleashing your inner Jane Fonda and hitting the gym isn’t really your style, fear not, it doesn’t have to be a full blown spandex and sports bra affair. Just being more active in general might be enough to push your fitful rest to comatose status. For instance, the past few days I’ve been working on a photo shoot and there has been a lot of jumping up to help a model out of a gown, running around gathering information for the credits, in and out of the studio running errands, etc.- basically more than just sitting in a cubicle typing like my more typical days. At the conclusion of each of the three photo shoot days I noticed I was practically falling asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow at bedtime, and I don’t think that was coincidental.
If you do have a stationary day-to-day I suggest making time to incorporate some kind of activity post or pre-work. I like to do sprints on the treadmill, my 55 year old mother likes Denise Austin workouts, my 63 year old aunt likes to do stretches, and my 81 year old grandmother likes to pump iron* (!!!). No matter your age there is some activity that will work for you, and your body will thank you by way of a better night’s sleep.
*Sorry for the age leak, ladies!
There was a time before Ambien and over-the-counter sleep aids, you know. Lavender has long been touted for it’s restful qualities and sleep-inducing effects, and there are several different ways to incorporate it into your routine: lavender capsules, tea, spray, candles, body wash, oil, and so forth*. The capsules and tea act as a kind of homeopathic sleep aid and the spray, candles, and body wash do the same thing via aromatherapy. I’ve also read that rubbing lavender oil on your temples eases anxiety and quells sleep disturbances. Even if homeopathic remedies aren’t really your style a noncommittal lavender trial is worth a shot.
*Be sure to always check the ingredients before snapping up lavender products- you don’t want any yucky stuff sneaking into your routine.
Remember my 81 year old grandmother who pumps iron? She’s also an advocate for ear plugs, nature sounds tapes (yes, tapes), and breathing exercises. She inhales for five seconds and exhales for five seconds, counting in her head while consciously relaxing from the feet up. For example, she begins to inhale “1… 2… 3…” and feels her toes before exhaling “1… 2… 3…” and relaxing them. She works all the way up to her shoulders and neck and by that time her body is completely relaxed- an ideal situation for falling asleep.
Chill Out on the Caffeine
I know some people who can drink coffee at 10pm and then pass out like they didn’t just consume 460mg of caffeine with that venti latte. (My friend’s grandmother wakes up in the middle of the night, drinks coffee, and goes back to bed. I digress.) If you’re like me you’re not one of those people. If caffeine’s relatively fresh in my system my body can be completely dead but sleeping is not an option, which is why I make a point to not drink caffeine past 3 or 4pm. Be conscious of the time of your intake or, if you’re feeling brave, try to cut it out all together. It might be worth it for you to suffer through a day or two of caffeine-withdrawal headaches in order to see how your quality of and ability to sleep changes.
Turn Off the TV and Read
When I was little my brothers and I had a bed time and an “F.O.B.” time. F.O.B. is a weird acronym made up in the Powell house that stood for “Flat On Back”, basically meaning that we didn’t have to have our lights out but we needed to be laying down reading (optimally). We were not allowed to have TVs in our rooms, and I sincerely think that is to thank for my stellar before bed reading ritual (knockin’ out chapter books since ’95, y’all!). I don’t know about you, but unless I am exceptionally exhausted I cannot fall asleep with a TV on. The alternating lightness and darkness is bothersome and I can’t stop focusing on whatever’s being said. I also think it’s safe to say that Jane Austen is a lot more sleep-inducing than Teen Mom (or whatever)*. It is a proven fact that having a TV in your bedroom equates getting less sleep and I’ve also heard that sleeping with a TV on lessens the quality of your rest.
Turn off the tube, pick up a book, (check out my most recent reading recommendations,) and watch your sleep habits change for the better.
*I will concede that televised golf tournaments are the greatest nap time soundtrack of all time. It’s like a cheap hypnotic or an Ambien without the waking-up-with-Twinkie-wrappers -around-you effect.
Nix the Midnight Snack
Although I’m not sure this one applies to everyone, if you’re having issue sleeping or staying asleep try avoiding food before bed. If your stomach’s full it can sometimes be difficult to get comfortable, and eating then laying down can wreak havoc on people who suffer from acid reflux.
Something else to consider is that when we are tired, our minds often confuse one basic need for another, basically causing us to experience a false sense of hunger when we really just need to call it a night. This one really just goes back to listening to your body- are you really hungry? Do you want a snack or do you need a snack? If you stop to evaluate what it is your body’s trying to tell you you might be surprised to find that you’re simply exhausted. Give it a try.
This can entail slowing down, taking a bath, doing some bedtime yoga, meditating, or praying. Basically this just means slowing your pace and not doing anything high intensity or too stressful before bed. This is just a generalized mood and vibe of your evening- if you’re running around like a crazy person until the minute you need to get in bed it’s probably going to take you longer to drift off to sleep.
When Nothing Else Works
As a last resort I recommend taking a simple, over-the-counter sleep aid. I don’t condone taking one every night but I suppose it’s better than self-medicating some other way. Be sure to always allot yourself at least eight hours of sleep time in order to let the aid do it’s job and in order to not completely mess you up in the morning. So- although the sleep aid requires some discipline and math regarding your bedtime it might be just what you need. I only use them for special circumstances and I really encourage anyone who feels the need to use them every night to closely examine what the basis of their sleeping problems might be. The sleep aid is a bit of a Band Aid opposed to a real solution.
Hopefully things won’t escalate to the level of needing a prescription but if your problems subsist after trying all of the above I suggest seeing a doctor.
Something I’ve heard mixed reviews about is Melatonin. Thoughts? Opinions? What’s your before bed routine? Is there anything that you like to do to ensure a better night’s sleep?
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