You lie awake, countless thoughts swirling around, unable to be quieted. You begin to wonder how long you’ve been waiting to fall asleep, then begin calculating how many hours till dawn. You drift off lightly, only to reawake a few minutes later, while the anxiety creeps in as you wonder how you will function tomorrow on such little sleep. I have been here before a handful of times in my life and I understand how insomnia can leave you feeling crippled. The type of insomnia that I developed is primary insomnia, a condition that is unrelated to other health problems and can be caused by stress, life change, or environmental factors. Insomnia can also be caused by medication or substance use, as well as health conditions like depression, indigestion, recent surgery, and many other diseases. Whether your insomnia is primary or secondary, acute, or chronic, it can leave you feeling helpless, and you may think that prescription sleep aids are your only option. If you, like me, are hesitant to resort to a potentially habit forming sleep medication, there are some natural insomnia remedies that are absolutely worth trying.
One of the best things you can do to build a healthy sleep pattern is to change your routine in a few key ways. First, and perhaps most obviously, try to cut as much caffeine from your diet as possible — especially in the afternoons and evenings. Remember, it is not just coffee consumption that needs to be reduced; tea, chocolate products, and energy drinks all contain caffeine, so be mindful when choosing what to put into your body.
One of the best things you can do during the day to help your sleeplessness is to get some extra exercise. We all know that the benefits of exercise are innumerable, but we have to work for these benefits. Take a walk on your lunch break, ride your bike after work, chase your kids in the yard for an hour, join a club sports team, swim at your local pool, anything you can do to get moving will help you feel productive, happier (hello, endorphins!) and hopefully, sleepier by the end of the day.
During my last bout of insomnia, I discovered that I have terrible pre-bedtime habits. All too often I found myself trying to stay up too late and falling asleep in front of the t.v., only to wake disoriented, crawl into bed, and then lie awake for hours replaying the events in my day. I made the conscious decision to change my ways and instead, I developed a routine that would let my body know it is time to get ready for sleep. When developing your own nightly routine, consistency is extremely important. After a week or so following a new pattern, your body and brain will begin to recognize the “triggers” associated with bedtime. One of the greatest indicators we have for sleep is whether it is light or dark. Don’t confuse your body by falling asleep in front of an electronic device that emits light, it can leave you feeling restless. Instead, turn that tv off an hour before bed and take a hot shower, do some yoga poses, read a book, or write in a journal. I find that journaling helps to alleviate some anxiety, by organizing my thoughts, and helping me create strategies for dealing with problems and stressors. Find a quiet activity that helps you feel calm and stick with it!
A few simple yoga poses (most of which can be done from bed) can loosen stiff muscles, calm restless legs, and steady breathing.
Child’s Pose: As you fold your torso over your thighs, feel your abdomen expand and take slow, purposeful breaths while extending your arms in front of you. Hold for 10 seconds, enjoying each inhale and exhale.
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle): Begin by drawing each knee into your chest and dropping it out to the side. Bring the soles of your feet together and as close to your pelvis as is comfortable. Stretch forward reaching with your fingertips, enjoying the stretch as your spine lengthens.
Happy Baby: I find hip-opening poses especially helpful before bedtime. For this pose, lie on your back and draw the knees into the chest. Grab the outside of each foot with the corresponding hand and gently rock side to side.
Savasana: End your night time sequence in Savasana by lying flat on your back with your palms open and facing upward and begin to prepare yourself mentally for a deep sleep.
Meditation has been my saving grace through times of insomnia. Too often I find myself thinking the same thoughts over and over again, worrying about problems that might arise, wondering if I am forgetting something, meditation is the only practice that truly quiets my mind. I prefer guided meditation, but if you are a very mindful person, you may be able quiet your own thoughts. Give yourself a determined amount of time, about 10-15 minutes to really reflect constructively on your day. Think about each event that occurred one at a time and analyze how you felt about it. Do not dwell on problems, either determine a solution, or let it go. Tell yourself that you are smart and capable, you will find the answer you are looking for, but not right now. It can wait until tomorrow. Guided meditation is easier for me because I can focus on the directions being given and it helps me to use . Most guided meditations come complete with soothing background sounds that may seem cheesy at first, but actually help to slow my heart rate and steady my breathing. Often I am asleep before the tape is finished.
If you can’t sleep, at least take some comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Nearly 60 million Americans suffer from insomnia at one point or another. Take control of your habits, and turn those negative, anxious feelings associated with bedtime into something positive so you can savor your sleep. After all, it is nourishing and leaves your body feeling restored.