Love, Wellness

I used to be plagued by insomnia, but these 5 steps finally helped me sleep

Current mood: tired.

I constantly find myself staring up at the ceiling at 3am in the morning, trying out different sleeping positions, all because I can’t fall asleep. Then when I do fall asleep, I am incapable of sleeping for more than six hours even though I’ve always been told I need a good eight hours.

And it’s not just happening to me.

Insomnia is an extremely common sleep problem that affects 30 to 40 percent of Americans yearly, especially women. The symptoms can range anywhere from the inability to fall asleep to the inability to stay asleep. Insomnia is not only frustrating when you are trying to sleep, it can also start to impact your health and performance when you are awake. If you’re reading this now because you can’t get to sleep, here are five solutions to help with your insomnia.

1. Exercise during the day.

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My sleep deprivation became a real problem due to stress from school. Even when I was tired, I couldn’t force myself to sleep no matter much I willed it. What I realized was I needed a way to vent my stress. Studies have found that exercise is a surefire way to improve sleep quality in insomnia patients. Not only does a regular exercise routine help me to destress, but taking an hour out of my day to focus on something besides work clears my mind and gives my eyes a break from staring at a computer screen.

The adrenaline after a workout generally wakes you up, so choosing to work out during the day will give you a sufficient amount of time to wind down before you have to go to bed. Once I’ve had time to settle down, I’m usually tired enough to immediately pass out. It’s recommended that you exercise at least three hours before bed. You will feel refreshed and more relaxed throughout the day so you can have a more restful night.

2. Limit your caffeine.

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It’s hard to stay away from coffee when you’re already tired, but drinking caffeine will just make it that much harder to fall asleep. I never even liked coffee before I started drinking it for school; now, it’s hard not to depend on it for those late night hauls. I also like my drinks sugary to the point that I will be bouncing off the walls. If I have a test the next morning that I still need to study for, I prefer to go to bed early and wake up early when I’m fresh rather than downing coffee and binging on junk food to stay awake.

For some people, however, that is harder said than done. One study found that coffee has a significant affect on sleep disturbances, even when it was taken six hours before bed. That’s still a long ways before bedtime and just enough time for you to forget that you probably won’t need to stay awake for that long.

Instead, I switched to tea. It has less caffeine when brewed or you can even choose a non caffeinated tea. Chamomile tea is especially known for its aromatic properties that will soothe and reduce your anxieties. Or try drinking a glass of warm milk. I always feel sleepy when I’m warm and full, and warm milk is the best for that. Just don’t end up drinking too much or your bladder might interrupt your sleep!

3. Turn off all screens an hour before bed.

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We live in such a technological age that it’s hard to dedicate any time out of the day to no screens at all. That’s what sleep should be for. I used to keep my phone charging next to my bed so the moment someone texted or called I was up and ready to check who it was. It’s an unhealthy habit that can be very distracting.

And that goes for TV and computer screens as well! Even having electrical lights on can disrupt your sleep by simulating daytime hormones. Dim the brightness and reduce exposure to too many of these devices so that your body shuts down naturally.

4. Don’t force yourself to sleep

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Sometimes it happens when you’re just not tired, but it’s already late so you get into bed and expect yourself to sleep. I’ve found that it’s more tiring trying to fall asleep than letting sleep come naturally. You will only increase your anxiety by tossing and turning. The times I unexpectedly fall asleep are actually when I’m not trying to (like in class).

If I’m not tired, I try to do something that will make me tired like reading a book or listening to music. Gentle yoga or meditation, which require deep breathing, will also help you relieve tension and help you fall asleep faster. I was terrible with the positions at first, but with gradual practice, I’ve added yoga as part of my bedtime routine. Try these simple poses to start off with.

5. Visualize yourself asleep

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It might feel like you’ve already been doing this, but wanting to go to sleep and visualizing it are two separate things. When I visualize myself asleep, it almost feels like I go inside myself. Sometimes I can feel my eyes roll back into my head. Practice deep breathing and gradually relax your muscles. I think back to all the times I have had excellent sleep, what I must have looked like at that moment. It’s possible that will be you again very soon. 

Insomnia happens to the best of us sometimes so don’t blame yourself as the reason why you can’t fall asleep. Blaming yourself will only increase your stress levels and make the next morning unpleasant to wake up to.

And if you can’t fall asleep before the morning? At least you can enjoy the sunrise.