Insomnia is like the little sister you're told you just have to drag along with you when you go out.
It's like having a nightly intervention with yourself, and you can't leave until you've hashed out all of your most uncomfortable memories.
Insomnia is a little goblin in the brain that just won't stop changing the thermostat. C'mon... Am I going to be too hot or too cold? Just pick one! I just want to sleep!
It's the friend that is always breathing down your neck until the one time you need them. *Cough* The night I needed an all nighter to study.
It is why I'm writing this post at 1 AM rather than during the day...
Listen, I know the struggle. If you're here you know it too. This post is for those who just need some way to handle the next night without feeling like they'll lose their mind. (I know that feeling pretty darn well by now.)
No. There is no fail-safe home remedy to cure insomnia. You have to see a doctor to treat this. It's what you and your body deserves.
However, I have some tricks up my sleeve developed after too many years of sleepless nights. Whether a veteran of this pest or you are simply experiencing some temporary stress-relieved bouts, having some kind of plan (like those down below) in mind will make the night more manageable and restful.
1. Counting (Sheep)
Okay, I know, I know you've seen this cliche and you find it utterly ridiculous. Hear me out. Counting is my #1 go to when I just can't get my brain to SHUT. UP. You know those nights. I saw this in an article years ago, and I still do it to this day. The article I saw suggested counting up from 1 to 100. That doesn't work for me. 100 comes way too quickly, and insomnia can't be beat that easily. I find counting down instead of up works. I start from 1,000. It's easy for my brain to get lost in the long sea of numbers. Eventually the counting finds a rhythm, and my breathing will follow it until I'm starting to drift off.
Typically I'm trying this trick when I have a song playing on loop in my head and it's keeping me awake, or I can't stop thinking through a stressful situation I'm currently facing. (If you've never struggled with sleep, you probably can't fathom how having a song stuck in your head keeps you up at night. Believe me, it absolutely can and will!)
While on the topic. If your brain is really focused on that thing that is keeping you from relaxing, counting in a way that demands more focus can help drown it out. For me, this is either counting in Spanish (my non-native language) or, if you can't count that high in another language, visualize writing the numbers on a white board.
Counting doesn't always get me to sleep, but it at least gets my mind and breathing to relax and slow down.
Meditation isn't going to come entirely easily to you if you haven't tried it before. It's something that gets easier with practice, and can become a powerful tool in finding restfulness.
Learning how to meditate, and what works for you isn't going to be easily summed up in a blog post. Instead, I will point you in the direction I started in. For me, it was the YouTube channel, Honest Guys. This Channel is filled with guided meditations which are diverse enough to suit a wide variety of preferences and needs. I highly recommend trying one while lying in bed. Many of their guided meditations are sleep talk downs and provide incredibly calming white noise. Again, meditation is different for everyone, but I find a hot drink to relax the body before getting into bed and trying one of these meditations works wonders for me!
3. Breathing Exercise
Breathing exercises go right along with meditation, but I thought they deserved their own talking point. After two years as a music major, I have discovered that breathing exercises can have powerful benefits for your mental and physical health. This is more than a sleep tip, as they can help you at any time of day. I highly recommend checking out The Breathing Gym. (You can often find videos from their courses free on YouTube!) I have taught my asthmatic mother many breathing exercises, and she will also attest to their benefits. At bedtime, I find breathing exercises are specifically soothing when anxiety is high.
When I do breathing exercises to aid in sleep, they are calmer than the stuff on The Breathing Gym and I do them while I'm lying in bed. If I find I'm having trouble focusing on breathing, I try some counting and come back to mindful breathing. There are three main breathing exercises I do to help me find restfulness.
1. 4-7-8 Breathing - Inhale for 4 counts, hold for seven, exhale for 8
2. Decelerated Breathing - Inhale for 1 count then exhale for 1, inhale for 2 then exhale for 2, and continue on adding a count each breath until you are experiencing slow relaxed breathing again repeat whatever comfortable number that is several times.
3.Exhale Stress Away - This is harder to explain. I often follow up my decelerated breathing with this. I find this easier laying flat on my back. Imagine positivity and comfort entering your body as you inhale slowly. Then, imagine all of your stress and tenseness leaving as you exhale. Allow this process to happen slowly. Start with the focus at your toes, then your feet and ankles, your shins, knees, legs, and so on. Take your time. You may focus on an area for many breaths. I find this exercise to be incredibly relaxing and beneficial both physically and mentally. You'll end up feeling like your body is heavy, relaxed, and sinking into your bed.
4. Play Music/Audiobook
A lot of your fight with insomnia is a mental game. Many professionals will suggest training your mind and body to know when it is time to sleep. I've found that in the same way someone may chew gum while they study, you can listen to music or an audio book as you fall asleep.
When I'm using music, I'll pick a certain soundtrack, and only listen to it when I'm lying in bed relaxing. For me, this is the soundtrack to The Fellowship of the Ring. When I turn on that soundtrack (or even watch the movie now), I find myself subconsciously relaxing and in a mindset to sleep. I've trained my mind to associate the music to a certain state - sleep.
If you are the kind of person who tends to visualize images and scenarios you hear, audiobooks are also very effective. When I turn on an audio book while I'm laying in bed with my eyes closed, my brain immediately begins to illustrate the scenes the voice is describing. Over time, the scene in my mind begins to play out like a dream and sleepfulness settles in. If it's a particularly bad night and I can't fall asleep this way, it's still a win because I got some reading done!
5. Accept the Restlessness
There will be nights where insomnia will win, no matter how many tricks you try. The best thing you can do is just accept your fate. In the end, just letting your body rest with your eyes closed, is better than absolutely nothing. As soon as you allow yourself to accept it will be a night spent awake, the better. The frustration you likely experience on bad nights probably causes you to toss and turn more than the actual lack of sleep. Just breathe. Settle in for the long haul. Turn on some music or an audio book and allow yourself to relax. Don't try to force sleep when it just isn't going to happen. It's likely you'll be able to take a cat nap later in the coming day.
6. Try a New Sleep Arrangement
This is such a simple concept, yet it may be overlooked. Whenever I've had a long stretch of sleepless nights, I just can no longer get in the right headspace to fall asleep. I'm frustrated and cranky with myself before I even climb into bed. I almost dread getting into bed.
I combat these times by simply not climbing in bed. I'll make a blanket nest on the floor, sleep on the couch, or have an impromptu camping trip in a tent in the backyard. It's amazing how much a different setting can change your state of mind and help you sleep. Novelty can be your friend when you are trying to keep insomnia at bay.
There you have it! These are some of my tips and tricks when I find my insomnia is particularly bad. Have you tried any of these? What are your go-to methods of combating sleeplessness?
I am not a doctor. I have no background in medicine. These tips are not intended to cure insomnia, nor are they guaranteed to provide tremendous effects. Home remedies are fantastic ways to supplement medical treatment, but they cannot replace it. These tips would be most beneficial in conjunction with a prescription or talk therapy. I can't stress how important it is to seek a healthcare provider as soon as an illness like this affects your life.