What to Do the Next Time Insomnia Strikes
When I was a freshman in college, one of my favorite songs was an electric tune called “Insomnia” by a DJ named Faithless. I used to listen to this song over and over again, dancing to it at all hours of the night. Little did I know that it would come back to haunt me 10 years later as an anxious 30-year-old who couldn’t seem to get any sleep. Night after night as I lay in bed, I would hear the beat and Faithless’s voice in my head: “There’s no relief. … I’m wide awake. … I can’t get no sleep.” Insomnia, the inability to sleep, is caused by many things, but in young, mostly healthy adults, the most common reasons are stress and anxiety. I would like to say that there is an easy cure to sleepless nights, but my insomnia is something that I’ve realized comes and goes, so the best way to combat it is to know how to deal with it when it does strike. Be prepared with several coping strategies, and you’ll be able to fight off your next bout of insomnia. Here’s how.
Keep a book, something light and easy to read, beside your bed. When you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep, turn on the light and start reading it. It shouldn’t be a textbook or something that you are dreading reading. If you’re not into books, read a magazine or a newspaper. Reading will make your mind work and take it off of whatever was stressing you out. If you have trouble falling asleep at night, crawl into bed and read for 20 minutes beforehand to tire yourself out.
Resist the urge to read stuff on your phone. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I try not to even touch my phone at all. There could be a text message from someone that will jolt me awake. Don’t check your email or Twitter feed—what you find could end up stressing you out even more. Studies show that using a device with a blue light (tablets, laptops, smartphones, e-readers, and some types of flat-screen televisions) can disturb your sleep pattern. That’s why it’s important, if you’re going to read something, to read print.
Download a meditation app (I like One Giant Mind) and listen to it throughout the day when you are awake. Remember the techniques, and when you wake up in the middle of the night, walk yourself through the mind-body awareness sequence. Focus on your body, your heart, and your breathing. Meditation will instantly calm you down.
If you’re not into meditation, practice relaxation through breathing. Count backward from 100, taking a deep breath between each number. Pay attention to the breath: 100, deep inhale in, exhale out; 99, deep inhale in, exhale out; 98, etc. If your mind starts to wander, begin with 100 and count down again. This sort of thinking is monotonous, and eventually it will make you sleepy.
A calming cup of tea or a glass of warm milk are old-school remedies to treat insomnia. Be sure the tea is decaffeinated, or seek out one that is made to aid with sleep.
Many nights, I will be physically and mentally exhausted, but once I get into bed, my brain will kick into overdrive, and I’ll start stressing big time. If your insomnia involves overthinking things or rapid-fire thinking, it might be a good idea to do something that makes you use your brain. Crossword puzzles or math problems tire your brain and can make you sleepy. Trying to remember something will also make you tired. List the states in alphabetical order, try to come up with a food for every letter of the alphabet, or see if you can name all the people in your senior English class in high school. Or use your imagination. Think of the biggest and most beautiful house you have ever been in and then imagine how you would decorate each room.
Simply can’t take it anymore? Get up. Make a list of everything that’s on your mind or all the things that you have to do in the morning, and you will instantly feel better. Sometimes I will wake up at 4 in the morning and start to write a story. This either tires me out quickly and I end up returning to bed less than a half an hour later, or I get a rush of adrenaline and continue to work through the morning. If that’s the case, then when I get tired around 2 p.m., I let myself take a nap!
When all else fails, use an over-the-counter sleep aid. Melatonin is a natural sleeping pill that will induce drowsiness but doesn’t have the sleep hangover that some prescription sleep medications do. It also has a short shelf life—it puts you to sleep but doesn’t keep you asleep—so if you wake up at 3 a.m. and want to wake up at 7 a.m., you can pop melatonin and not worry about oversleeping. ZzzQuil is another over-the-counter sleep aid that I have used to positive results.
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How do you fight insomnia?