Insomnia Tips and Tricks

I work third shift at a television station, so I know what an irregular sleep schedule is like. I have never had the best sleeping patterns, but it’s been really bad since I have started this job. Every night I toss and turn until about 11 pm—about three hours before I have to get up for work. It’s frustrating just laying awake thinking about how tired you are but you can’t sleep. That makes you more anxious, leading to a pumped up heart rate and worsening the sleeplessness. That brings me to tip number one…

1.) If you can’t sleep, get out of bed. Go do something relaxing in the living room or kitchen like drinking a cup of decaf tea, reading a chapter of a book, or eating a couple snacks like graham crackers that are easy on the stomach and promote sleepiness. Return to bed once you feel tired once more.

Once you are in bed, take your mind completely off anything that is stressing you out. Forget about work the next day, or when the bills are due. Thinking about it only makes you anxious and frustrated. You may be thinking, “If I don’t sleep I am going to be so tired the next day and not perform well at work.” Well, that’s not true. Even if you get zero hours of shut-eye, just the fact that you are consciously relaxing makes a world of a difference of how you feel the next day (trust me on this one… have you ever pulled an all-nighter in college where you’ve been cramming for a test? Yeah, not relaxing). So, how DO you take your mind off the tough stuff?

2.) Breathe in positive, exhale negative. Okay, that sounds corny but meditation/yoga/deep breathing/whatever you want to call it naturally relaxes your body. When your breathing slows down, you begin to drift off… have you ever caught yourself dreaming or right before you start to fall asleep? Yeah, it’s pretty cool. How you achieve that is by taking a deep breath in and slowly exhaling out. Most of us breathe short puny breaths through our mouth when we should be breathing through our nose. Ahhhh the oxygen! It purifies your brain!

3.) Another trick is to relax your muscles. This is a good one for athletes or those who like to exercise. I run a lot so sometimes at night my muscles are sore. On top of taking a nice shower with a eucalyptus body wash I do this routine before bed. Lay on your back and tense up your muscles one by one. Example, tense your right calf for ten seconds, then release. How does your muscle feel? I guarantee you are more aware that it is relaxed and once you have done this for all your muscles you will feel like jello.

4.) Prepare your room for the SLEEP ZONE. Do not watch tv or read this post on your laptop in your bed. In fact, go tech-free about an hour before bed. This prepares the brain for sleep, instead of the stimulating white light of gadgets. Dim the lights in your house and make sure your room is cool enough (not cold, but watch the temperature). Perhaps you need a fan, or the window open. Just make sure that there are no noises that could wake you up suddenly. I personally like fans because they create white background noise that is hypnotizing to me at night.

5.) Watch the caffeine. I’m a sucker for coffee. The smell, the taste…give me a cup and you’ll be my best friend forever. I need two cups of black coffee in the morning. But lately I have been taking a second look at my intake. Do I need two cups of coffee? Should I wean myself to one? I never have caffeine past noon, and neither should you my restless friend! Drink plenty of water which is actually energizing, or if you need something hot or refreshing try decaf tea.

6.) Alcohol. It’s so easy to get sucked into the “well, alcohol helps me sleep.” Fridays and Saturdays I sleep like a baby because my body wants to catch up on missed sleep from the week, but also because after I go out on the weekends the heart-rate reducing alcohol puts me into a sleepy-time state. Don’t fall for cheap imitations! This is only a temporary catch that will not actually help you much like sleeping pills. Focus on the positive natural remedies here.

I’m still looking for more. What I am wondering about is diet, activities, and napping. Right now I eat dinner pretty late, I run 3-6 miles a day, and I nap close to 3 hours a day because I’m so tired.

Here’s what I found out:

It’s been known that poor sleep leads to poor decisions— including food choices. Boy, have I noticed that. Whereas I am generally a healthy eater that loves salads and fruits, carbs and sugars look the best to me when I am in a slump. In the long run, however, that leads to a crash of energy in the not so distant future. So, reach for the banana which contains a little sugar but is a lot healthier, and stick to the carrots and hummus rather than the candy and chips.
On that note, your eating schedule may also be in check. A hearty breakfast is a good kickstart to the day, with a mid-morning snack, followed by a moderate lunch, and then a light dinner. Do not make dinner the biggest meal of the day, contrary to the popular American diet. Opt for the “Mediterranean” diet at supper and eat two hours before bedtime so you aren’t “full” while you are laying parallel on the bed. Why? It can cause acid reflux, or heartburn, a MAJOR cause of sleep problems which I will discuss in another post because I happen to have it.

Moderate exercise is good! Getting the vitamin D from sunshine if you are outdoors is even better (don’t get me wrong, sunshine just from opening the blinds/curtains is also sufficient). Just do not participate in vigorous exercise two hours or less before bedtime. Mild yoga or pilates is OK though.

Just say “no” to naps longer than 30 minutes. You may feel exhausted after work, but getting hooked to sleeping during the day is not doing any favors. Force yourself to stay up and you might find you will be naturally tired at a normal hour where you won’t wake up.

Now I am looking into supplements, like melatonin, and other vitamins/herbal remedies to this disorder that plagues many Americans. I don’t really hit on snoring or sleep apnea too much in this post, but I plan to. I have slight sleep apnea without snoring (oddly enough) that sometimes causes bad dreams/nightmares which end up in sleep paralysis. All of this might sound pretty scary but I will explain it in a future post.

Sweet dreams everyone!

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