As someone who has struggled with sleeping for about a decade, I understand the effects of chronic insomnia. You’re stuck in a cycle of being exhausted, feeling like a zombie throughout the day, and then when you’re lying in bed at night – you’re wide awake.
But fret not. My terrible sleeping experiences have left me with a wealth of knowledge for the occasionally sleep deprived and the most veteran of insomniacs. Read on, my friend, and hopefully this helps your weary mind and body get some rest!
Sleep hygiene refers to habits and behaviours that contribute to increasing the quality of your sleep! It’s amazing how many seemingly minor things we do during the day can contribute to our ability to fall asleep at night. The first step in examining your sleeplessness is looking at your own habits, and seeing what you can change to better your rest. One of the first things your doctor would ask you at a sleep clinic is questions about your sleep hygiene. Here are some simple tips to improve your sleep hygiene:
- Blue-light exposure: smart-phone use has made us more prone to staring at screens than ever. How many of us browse our phones at night before we go to bed, oftentimes when we’re already lying down and about to go to sleep? I know I’m guilty of it. Unfortunately, exposure to the blue-light emitted from screens from cellphones, computers, and TV screens messes with our circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm refers to the body’s process to produce melatonin, which is a hormone that makes us feel sleepy. The fix: limit your exposure by avoiding the computer and TV a few hours before bed. There are lots of apps available for smartphones that will dim your screen and tint the colour to a warmer hue. Some of these are timed to start dimming your screen automatically at the time of your choice so that you can have maximum benefit of warm light. Alternatively, turn off your phone at bedtime and definitely don’t do any late-night scrolling on Instagram.
- Caffeine and Alcohol Use: caffeine is a stimulant that helps us stay energized and awake, which is why many people feel like they can’t function until they have their coffee in the morning. Some teas and soda also contain caffeine, so try not to drink any coffee, pop, or beverages in the evening before you go to sleep. Optimially, you shouldn’t drink caffeine at least seven hours before bedtime. Studies have shown caffeine can disrupt your sleep even if consumed six hours before bedtime. And contrary to what many believe, alcohol is also disruptive to sleep. Although it can make you more prone to falling asleep the quality of your sleep will be poor, and if you already have sleep apnea it can make it worse. Alcohol is not a healthy or effective option for inducing sleep.
- Cool room, warm bed: having a comfortable and quiet place to sleep is a must if you have insomnia. Your bed should be inviting – whether that means adding or removing pillows, replacing your mattress, or indulging in that soft and snuggly comforter. Your room should be cool, but comfortable with a warm blanket. Feeling hot and sweaty can wake you up and prevent you from falling back asleep. A fan to keep the air circulating in the room can also provide you with a little extra white noise that can help block out disruptive sounds.
- Lights out: invest in black out curtains and/or a sleeping mask. We sleep best in complete darkness! If you have difficulty sleeping with all the lights out, invest in an LED soft-glow nightlight. Limiting light in the room lowers the chances of disrupting your Circadian rhythm.
- Have a routine: come up with a routine to follow every night before bed. This is your opportunity to turn off your electronics and do something that helps you relax. It could be taking a warm bath, reading a book, or making your lunch before work. It shouldn’t be anything that requires a lot of energy, such as working out. You don’t want to feel energized, you want to feel sleepy and relaxed. My personal routine is choosing what clothes I want to wear to work in the morning and brushing my teeth. Going to bed knowing that I’m set for the morning and don’t have to rush around to find clothes helps put my mind at ease and I don’t feel stressed about having to get up early. I also always try to stay off the computer at least an hour before I go to sleep.
Use Natural Supplements or speak to a doctor about a low-grade sleeping medication. Keep in mind that supplements, like melatonin, can interact with other medications you take. Prescription sleeping medication should be a last resort, and most are not prescribed for long term use. If you find that despite these tips you are still not able to have a restful and relaxing sleep, complete a sleep study. This involves going to a sleep clinic and getting electrodes attached all over your body to monitor things like your breathing, your heart rate, brain activity, and muscle activity. Sleep studies can effectively diagnose if you have a disorder that is keeping you from sleeping and/or from meaningful sleep, such as restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea. See if a doctor can refer you to one. This may or may not be covered by your health care insurance provider. Make sure to find out to avoid surprise costs.
Give these tips a try and see how it works for you! What is your go-to method to combat sleeplessness? Do you have a sleeping disorder you’ve successfully managed?