Updated: Jun 11, 2019
I've dealt with insomnia literally since I was born. I was the baby that was up all night crying. I couldn't wake up for elementary school because I was awake in bed until 6am. In middle school I'd stay up and listen to music until 6am. I couldn't stay at "slumber parties" because everyone would fall asleep and I'd just be awake, in the hell that is insomnia. In high school I started working at a bar that was open until 3am, since I would be awake anyways.
I never could quite get to sleep. I've been on countless prescription sleep medications. I've also tried melatonin, Tylenol pm, NyQuil, etc. I've tried deep breathing exercises. I've even tried to count sheep. Has anyone ever really tried to count sheep? I've tried alcohol to induce sleep, less caffeine to encourage sleep. Lavender oil. Spa music. You name it. My dad is an insomniac too. It hasn't been proven to be hereditary, but it must be. Right? The thing is, when you have trouble sleeping over time, you start to get anxiety when it gets around bed time. You know you aren't going to sleep. You want to sleep. You're too tired to stay up and do anything productive (contrary to what people that fall asleep easily say they would do if they couldn't sleep) Your body needs sleep to function properly. Sleep helps you to form memories, and to be emotionally balanced. It affects your metabolism and cortisol levels. It affects the thing in your body that tells you you're hungry. It heals your muscles.
I'm 29. I'm just now getting some sleep. I used to joke that I've been awake my whole life. I'm finally getting some rest. Here's what I've discovered that has helped me.
After doing literally years and years of research and practicing different habits, I've found the combination that helps me sleep. Some of you won't be willing to change your lifestyles, and that's fine. But if you're a chronic insomniac like I am, I encourage you to give this a trial run before writing me off.
1. Set your alarm an hour before you go to bed. Don't pick up your phone the rest of the night. Turn off all lights in your bedroom. Make sure there are no lights from chargers or anything electronic. Artificial light affects the production of natural melatonin in your body. If you don't have black out curtains and maybe a street light is lighting up your room, sleep with a pillow on your head. I know this sounds crazy, I swear by it. I do this.
2. Use ear plugs. I'm an incredibly light sleeper if I do get to sleep. I also get paranoid at night, when you're up at night and it's dark and you're still awake at 3am; your mind starts to wander. You think of the scariest movie you've ever seen, or the scariest thing that could happen to you right then.
Are demons real? Man I hope not. I wonder if anyone ever died in this apartment. What if someone's hiding in the closet?
Then the ice machine turns on doing it's normal routine. AGH!
If you hear any normal noise at all, you freak yourself out. Ear plugs.
3. Don't take melatonin. What happens when you take melatonin is that later your body thinks it has too much of it, so it holds out on producing it, and then it realizes your levels are low so it spikes it's own production. It's an awful cycle of your body trying to normalize itself and you end up tired at the wrong times of the day, and then you're up all night.
4. Exercise is key. I try to do some form of exercise daily. This tires your body out later when it's time for bed, and exercise has countless benefits for your body.
5. Yoga and meditation. If you're like me, you keep yourself up at night worrying. I worry that I won't be able to pay my bills. I worry that I'll never get another audition (I torture myself after every audition). I worry that I'm wasting my life. I worry that my boyfriend's family hates me. I worry that I'm going to be a waitress forever. I worry that my age is starting to show. I worry that I'm going to be tired all day tomorrow and it's going to ruin everything because I can't get to sleep!
I literally make myself crazy with the most ridiculous things I can think of. Sound familiar?
Here's where meditation and yoga come into play. I've started doing yoga daily after my regular workout just to relax my mind and stretch and strengthen my body. Before bed though, especially if I've been at work, I'll do a quick 15 minutes just to get in a relaxed state. Learn to meditate too. This one is hard for people. It really does take time. When you're first starting out just sit for 15 minutes with your legs crossed, and your back straight. Relax your shoulders and focus on your breathing. Whenever your mind starts to wander come back to your breath. This will happen more times than you can count during your meditation session, it's normal. You aren't bad at meditating.
6. Hot baths. Pretty much almost nightly now I take a hot bath before bed. A hot bath produces melatonin in your body. Yay! During this time I meditate, or read. If I've been at work all night, I usually choose to meditate to get my mind relaxed from running around on my feet taking orders for hours. If I've been off all day and had a pretty stress free day, I'll choose to read instead. You don't have to stay in there for 30 minutes. I usually take about a 15 minute bath.
7. Vitamin D. Another thing that produces melatonin! Who knew you could produce melatonin naturally in so many different ways? Well now you do. Go outside and get some fresh air every day. I luckily have a dog so I go on a walk daily anyways. But go when it's day time not just a night time walk. Vitamin D is from the sun, you know that. :)
8. Eat Healthy. This is another biggie. If you're eating things that are causing discomfort and bloating, or an upset stomach, it can keep you up at night. Cut out processed foods altogether. Don't eat fried foods, sugar, or dairy. Eat healthy carbs and proteins, whatever that means to you. I'll let you do your own research. Personally, I don't eat bread or meat regularly.
9. Cut back on alcohol and caffeine. I try not to have caffeine after 2pm, 3pm at the latest. I don't really indulge in alcohol anymore, but for those of you that do, be cautious with it. Alcohol disrupts your deep sleep and REM cycles. Even though you feel you are deeply asleep because you're buzzed, you are actually only in light sleep mode the whole night. Your body is not getting the amount of restoration that it needs to function properly.
10. Sleep schedule. Try to go to sleep and wake up in the morning at the same times every day. This is important for your body to get into a sleep routine. You need 7-8.5 hours of sleep per night. Figure out when this works for you. I go to bed at midnight and wake up at 9, it usually takes me 30 minutes to fall asleep. This is a massive improvement considering I used to literally just be awake all night.
I hope this helps you! I know it seems excessive and a little crazy, but if you've had trouble sleeping your whole life, this is a life saver. Literally. You're adding years to your life by getting the proper amount of sleep. :)