11 Steps to manage insomnia
Sleep is one of the highest priorities for overall health and wellbeing. Insomnia affects the mind, body and energies of the individual. The reasons for insomnia can be many fold and may require specialist support or investigation. A lack of sleep is known for its psychological impact and emotional irregularities, especially in adolescence.
I struggled with insomnia as a child, with poor mental health and then a head injury. Each manifested in different types of insomnia and taught me different aspects of sleep hygiene over my lifetime.
Type of insomnia and sleep hygiene
Insomnia sucks. The type of insomnia that you struggle with may require more medical support than this article presents, but most of our insomnia is due to behaviourally related issues whether from a stress trigger in your life, drug use (includes caffeine) or many years of a busy lifestyle.
Whatever the cause, the first step medical professionals will request is that you try the sleep hygiene steps first. Sleep hygiene originates from cognitive behavioural therapy where the goal is to retrain your behaviours and change your emotional responses, which supports your sense of wellbeing and health.
6 Core Sleep Hygiene Steps
(1) Routine is fundamental
The doctors could not emphasise enough to me the importance of routine with sleep. This comes twofold:
(a) Regular bedtime and rise
Go to bed and rise at the same time. It is fundamental to your body clock that it knows that it is time to sleep.
Allow 6-9 hours sleep for an adult, but really 7-8 hours is the total sleep time in bed, not just bedtime.
(b) Wind-down period
For at least 30-60 minutes before bedtime have the same routine each night. This tells your mind and body that it is preparing for sleep.
Explore with this routine, but ensure that you follow all the other steps in this article.
Diarise it all
A sleep diary can help to keep note emotional and physical wellbeing affected by the hours, duration, quality and how you felt each day to see the impact of your sleep routine. It often takes an objective record to accept this truth.
I did this for almost 2 years after my head injury to monitor my symptoms and really noticed that oversleeping led to several nights of no sleep or barely sleeping. This made me stick to my 8 hours a night of sleep maximum.
(3) Afternoon/ Evening Restrictions
There are a series of activities that may stimulate your nervous system into the sympathetic nervous system response and you should limit them in the afternoon and evening, to ensure the body and brain knows that it is time to be calm. These include:
6 hours before bedtime - drinks and food with caffeine, sugar, etc.
5 hours before bedtime – naps & never nap for more than 30 minutes in the day.
3 hours before bedtime – vigorous exercise such as HIIT training or power flow yoga.
2 hours before bedtime – no electronic device screens, this includes TVs, phones and tablets.
2 hours before bedtime – heavy meals or food groups that are difficult to digest.
1 hour before bedtime – reduce liquids so you are not up all night in the toilet.
(2) Your bedroom sanctuary
Make your bedroom about rest only. Your body, mind and feelings must all associate your bedroom with sleep to support inducing such a state. Some tips on optimising your bedroom are:
As dark as possible – get blackout blinds or curtains to reduce the light coming in.
Remove electronics from your room or put them in airplane mode.
Temperature should be cool but snug in your bed.
Use aromatherapy to make it smell soothing – lavender, chamomile, geranium, bergamot and jasmine are great for sleep.
As quiet as possible. If you live in a busy place try to get headphones or a speaker with white noise playing.
I found that the darkness issue stopped being an issue for me when I moved out of the city and into nature. Then I learnt that I am deeply affected by the full moon and this is when my insomnia always kicks in.
(4) Physical Exercise
When your body feels fidgets in bed then it means that physically you have excess energy in your body to work off. Make sure that you get in 30 minutes per day of walking or basic movement, and if possible add in:
Intensive workouts earlier in the day and at least 6 hours before bedtime.
Calming evening movement such as restorative yoga or mobility work.
If you can’t sleep a gentle movement practice such as Qi Gong can help balance the nervous system into rest mode.
As a child I struggled with an inability to fall asleep. I realised at 10 years old that I needed about 4 hours of movement per day minimum to help me sleep.
Use your sleep diary to monitor exercise and its impact on your sleep – type of exercise, time of day, duration and intensity.
(5) Foods to Sleep
Eat a balanced diet overall to help with sleep and smaller meals in the evening so that your body is ready to rest overnight. However, sometimes those late night munchies kick in and your rumbling belly will not let you sleep. Choose your evening snacks wisely, with treats like:
- Plain yoghurt (dairy-free is fine) – the calcium stabilises the nerve fibres in your brain for a calmer mental state.
- Nuts such as almonds or pistachios contain high magnesium for inducing sleep.
- Bananas release tryptophan that calms the brain.
- Figs, watermelon, prunes all contain high B vitamins to help sleep. But not too many for the sugar content.
- Oatmeal contains magnesium and tryptophan to aid sleep.
- Chamomile tea is calming for the nervous system.
- Miso soup contains a protein that helps produce melatonin for sleep.
- Sweet potatoes have magnesium that helps you fall asleep and into a deeper sleep.
(6) Stay calm when you cannot sleep
It is important to remain calm to induce sleep, so if you cannot sleep do not get frustrated.
After 20 minutes get up and go do something else that is relaxing. For example:
- Physical restlessness – try gentle movement like Qi Gong, somatic movement or my fascia release.
- Mental restlessness – write until the brain dump feeling occurs.
- Read a book
- Meditation practice, yoga nidra or listen to an audio book.
- Have another cup of chamomile tea
I found using the time to practice meditation and yoga nidra the most useful.
Twenty minutes of yoga nidra has the benefits of 2 hours sleep, so when you have insomnia doing yoga nidra is a constructive use of the time and prevents too much exhaustion the next day.
Nid’s discoveries for insomnia
For my childhood insomnia it was all about exercise and physically exhausting my body.
As a lawyer it was about calming activities in the evening, although I was terrible at this and barely ever slept more than 4 hours a night.
With a head injury it was routine and connection to nature.
My personal techniques are:
1. A hot foot bath with lavender to take busy mind back down into the earth. I do this 40 minutes before bedtime. If I can’t have a footbath, then I massage my own feet.
2. Aromatherapy smells are on in my evening space for at least an hour before bedtime.
3. Chamomile tea in the 2 hours prior to bedtime.
4. Get out into nature and look at the stars. My melatonin is sensitive to light so low lighting is important, and if possible looking at the night sky induces sleep for me.
5. Evening wind-down is listening – either to talks or soothing music. The more busy my mind the more ‘engaged’ I need to be so I use talks in this order:
a. TED Talks,
b. Abraham Hicks, or
c. yoga nidra or meditation.
There are wonderful Shamanic tools and more Chinese Medicine techniques that can really help building quality of sleep too. The tools are limitless if you are open to enjoying a good night’s sleep, but a huge amount is the mindset to have a great night’s sleep of restful happy dreams.
Designing an evening wind-down routine, movement practice, breathing techniques to calm the nervous system or nutritional balance are all things that we can help you with. Sometimes it is the support of another that can help the steps towards finding some rest. Contact us if you would like to learn more about how we can support you in discovering your better sleep.