Insomnia of course is a technical term for it. The dictionary defines it as a “sleep disorder in which there is an inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep as long as desired.” People typically describe one of two issues – difficulty sleeping OR difficulty falling or staying asleep.
The ‘can’t sleep’ thing can be caused by many things. Which of course makes it very confusing to understand. Or work out just what the problem is. Sometimes it can be a sign or symptom of serious underlying health issues. We’re not going to delve into that one. That kind needs to be addressed by experts in the field – qualified health professionals.
Some of the consequences of the ‘can’t sleep’ thing are that it affects how you function when you’re meant to be awake and alert. Like memory, irritability, depression, difficulty concentrating, making mountains out of molehills, catastrophising, over-reacting… It can get downright dangerous if you’re operating machinery or driving! Or sitting for an important test. Or having to make a speech….
So just what are some of the things that can cause this ‘can’t sleep’ thing to happen? Here’s some of the things on my list –
- Excitement ‘cos there’s something big happening the next day
- Sadness because there has been a tragedy or a loss
- Planning ahead for something important and hoping not to have forgotten some minor detail that will surely ruin everything and it will ALL be MY fault!
- Overtired from doing too much
- Upset or angry because you’ve had a falling out with someone
- Can’t “turn off” – the brain is in over-drive
- Drinking coffee too late in the day
- Uncomfortable bed or sleeping in a strange bed
- Lousy pillow
- Aches and pains
- Too hot, too cold, too noisy, too quiet, full bladder
- Waiting for the kids to come home just so you know they are safe and haven’t kidnapped by aliens
- Emotional or spiritual crisis
I’m sure you get the idea… it sort of falls into themes: head stuff, heart stuff, body stuff, environmental stuff. Oh, and the full moon! Yep – it’s a real thing. Ask any nurse, shop owner, bank manager – they’ll confirm it.
So now that we got that straight, what can be done about the ‘can’t sleep’ thing?
Avoid anything with caffeine in it after mid afternoon and go easy on how much you drink, including alcohol, from about 7pm if you don’t want to be up and down to the loo all night. Alcohol can stop you from having that really restful deep sleep as well, so even if you sleep ‘well’, you may still wake up tired. My mistake last night was having a cup of coffee in the evening. I knew I shouldn’t, but I still did. Silly!
If you smoke be aware that nicotine stimulates the central nervous system, interfering with your ability to fall asleep and stay that way.
Avoid eating heavy meals late in the evening. It can take three to four hours to digest a big meal. Spicy or sugary food is usually a bad idea. Spices can irritate the stomach, cause indigestion. That can lead to an uncomfortable and restless night.
Relax and unwind in the evening so you don’t go to bed all hyped up. This is a good time to meditate.
Use aromatherapy – lavender is calming and soothing : See this post – What’s so good about meditating
Stay away from blue lights, laptops, mobile phones and other electronic gadgets. The blue wavelengths are thought to inhibit the production of melatonin which is the hormone that makes you sleepy. Some people pop a melatonin pill and swear by it.
Try to avoid taking prescription sleeping pills. They tend to disrupt restorative sleep so you wake up tired. And they can be addictive. Which means you get used to them and will need to take stronger doses for them to be effective.
Have a drink of warm milk and honey or eat some chicken, turkey, bananas. These foods contain tryptophan, an amino acid that’s used to make serotonin. And serotonin is a brain chemical that helps you sleep.
Have a regular routine. Got to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends.
Start the day by spending some time outside in nature. Like taking a morning walk, or some gentle stretching to greet the day.
Avoid day time naps. You’ll find yourself bright eyed and bushy tailed just when it’s time to curl up and go to sleep.
Practise progressive relaxation once you’re in bed. Slowly work your way up the body starting at the feet, imagining they are becoming heavy and sinking into the mattress.
Occupy your mind with something dull, boring and repetitive. Like counting sheep!
If you can’t sleep, don’t stay in bed tossing and turning. Get up, do something until you feel tired.
Don’t clock watch. It’ll just make you worry more about lack of sleep.
Keep the temperature in the bedroom cooler than the rest of the house. You’ll sleep better.
Have a comfortable mattress and pillow and bedding that keeps you warm as your body temperature drops when you sleep. Snuggling under a cosy blanket is comforting and soothing.
Last but not least, if all else fails, you might want to try this techniques developed by Dr Andrew Weil. He claims his method initiates sleep by relaxing the mind and the muscles.
Here’s what you do :
Empty your lungs completely through the mouth while making a ‘whoosh’ sound. Then close your mouth and inhale quietly through the nose for a count of four. Next, hold your breath to a count of seven before exhaling completely – while making the ‘whoosh’ sound – to a count of eight. Repeat the whole process for a total of four breaths.
For me, some of these tips are helpful. Others are just not for me at all! Hopefully those of you who have the ‘can’t sleep’ thing can find some helpful tips to turn it into a ‘can sleep’ thing.
Breathe, relax, sleep…