Insomnia and I have been locked in an epic battle for as long as I can remember. As soon as I lay down, my mind takes it as a cue to start running amuck. It’s like it says, “Oh, look! An opportunity to do nothing but think about all the things! Totally free of any pesky distractions for HOURS! What are we going to think about first?!” Even when I’m exhausted, it’s hard for me to shut off sometimes.
While some nights are still harder than others, I’ve found some methods that actually work for me after lots of experimenting and suffering from the consequences of no sleep. When I don’t get enough sleep, I feel it everywhere. It’s especially bad for my creativity because when I’m not functioning at optimum levels, it’s hard for me to focus and be creative. Sleep is vital to your health and mental state. There are tons of studies on this.
Here’s what has worked for me. A major part of it is my nighttime routine and then there are a few tricks I’ve learned that help on the particularly difficult nights. If you suffer from insomnia as I do, I hope some of these help you out. Everyone is different. It comes down to figuring out what works for you.
Tips on Getting Rid of Insomnia
It all starts with setting up a night routine. On the nights when I haven’t incorporated these things, I’ve noticed it was harder for me to wind down. Doing the same things every night subconsciously triggers your brain that it’s time to relax and soon, drift off to sleep. Here’s what I do:
- Shower early enough so that the initial “wake up” feeling it gives me has a chance to wear off, at least a couple of hours before bed. I recommend using beautiful smelling soaps and lotions that make you feel good. (I love ones from Bath & Body Works.)
- Wash my face and apply moisturizers.
- Slip into cute, comfortable pajamas. Why do they have to be cute? Because they make me feel good. I used to sleep in whatever old t-shirts I had but then one day I purchased an adorable pajama set from Target and I was amazed by how this small, seemingly insignificant thing made me feel so good. So now, it’s cute pajamas only.
- Make sure I have clean, soft sheets and luxurious bedding to look forward to crawling into. ‘Luxurious’ does not have to mean expensive; my stuff is from HomeGoods and Target but I chose a faux down comforter and pillow because I love the feel of them. I also get high thread-count sheets so they don’t rip and get rough after a few washes.
- Make sure my house is picked up. A clean space equals a clear mind for me. When my environment is cluttered, I get anxious.
- Set my computer and phone to automatically switch to night shift at 9pm (I usually go to bed around 11 or 12) to get rid of blue light interference least a 1-3 hours before I go to sleep. It removes the blue light from my screens, which affects your melatonin levels and makes it harder for you to fall asleep. It automatically turns back to blue at 7am. This has been a HUGE game changer for me. My iPhone, Macbook, and Windows laptop all have this setting built-in but there are apps you can download if your device doesn’t have the option.
- Read a book or listen to an audiobook (in the dark) before sleeping. This helps me wind down and gives me something to focus on so my mind doesn’t go wild thinking about anything and everything else. Usually, I read a chapter or two of a physical book before turning out the light. However, if I’m too tired to keep my eyes open but my mind is still a bit too active, listening to an audiobook in the dark is great at quieting the noise in my brain and helping me to relax.
OTHER TIPS FOR STUBBORN INSOMNIA
Sometimes, even the best-laid plans (i.e. a great night routine) can’t be a match for a particularly stubborn case of insomnia. Here are some other things I do that help on the worst nights of it.
- Workout. Even twenty or thirty minutes of walking, cardio or yoga will help expel leftover energy in your body. There are even yoga routines specifically designed to help you fall asleep. A quick search on YouTube provides a ton of free ones for this purpose.
- Diffuse essential oils and/or use bath soap or lotions made with them. Lavender is the most common for relaxation, but do some research to see what other oils and mixes experts recommend.
- Try this quick breathing exercise to help you reset and relax: breathe in deeply for 6 seconds, hold for 4, out for 6; repeat at least five times.
- Follow a guided sleep meditation. Headspace has my favorites but you can also find some on YouTube and Spotify.
- Count your breaths, focusing on the rise and fall of it in your body.
- Say some positive, comforting affirmations to yourself. This is particularly helpful if you’re feeling anxious or restless about something that’s keeping you awake.
- If a lot of your best ideas and thinking comes at night when you’re laying in bed, build in 30 minutes to an hour of time before you want to fall asleep to just lay there and think, instead of fighting it. Keep a notebook by your bed or make sure your phone is turned to night mode so if you make any notes, the blue light doesn’t mess you up.
- Don’t set your alarm too early. I used to set it an hour before I needed to get up and then again thirty minutes and fifteen minutes before. This broke up my sleep and actually made me more tired. I’ve found that I wake up naturally in time and feel better that way. Now, I just set an alarm for exactly when I need to get up in case I do happen to oversleep (or add one extra fifteen minutes before if it’s especially early and I don’t want to have to spring right out of bed).
- Block out as much light as possible in the room where you’re sleeping. Even a little bit can trigger your brain into thinking it’s time to get up.
- If there is noise in the background (like a family member or roommate has a television on that’s keeping you awake), put on some white noise. Spotify has a ton of things like this as does the app Headspace or you can get a noise machine that plays things like ocean waves, white noise or rain on a loop. You can also try music specially designed for sleep (Spotify has playlists for this). I always put it on a timer, though, because if I leave it on all night I tend to wake up a few hours later. Doesn’t happen to everyone but that’s been my experience.
- Put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ if you find that you wake up to text notifications. You can (on an iPhone at least) determine whose calls and texts are exceptions so you don’t miss anything important or urgent.
- If you feel anxious about all the things you want/need to do, make a list every night of all the things you accomplished that day and then say to yourself “I accomplished everything I needed to get done today. Tomorrow is a new day and I’ll accomplish even more. Now, it’s time for me to rest so tomorrow, I will be at my best.” It may also help to write down your to-do list for the next day so it dumps it from your brain. That way, you don’t stay up all night going over everything you have to do out of fear you may forget something. Once it’s written down, your brain can rest knowing it’s been committed to paper.
- Try to be mindful every time you catch your mind wandering rather than relaxing. Remind yourself that you’re allowed to relax and devote this time to sleeping – in fact, it’s straight up productive because your work is better when you’ve had a good night’s sleep. As someone obsessed with being productive, this one helps me a lot. Give your brain permission to let go.
I hope some of these tips help you start sleeping better. And if you have any tips, please let me know in the comments below! I’m always looking for new methods to try.