5 tips to fight insomnia
Updated On: Jan 31 2013 10:13:38 AM CST
By Nathan, Pure Matters
I think of insomnia as a marathon of the mind that takes place in the dark, sleepless hours, where one thought wiggles through my exhaustion, which leads to another thought, and then another. A looming deadline inspires me to contemplate the best way to start writing a story, which leads to thoughts about my family, which leads to another thought about a friend’s upcoming surprise party for their 40th….Trace the thoughts back to their origin -- as I often do as I crest the first hour of sleeplessness -- and the trail makes sense. But the final destination is a restless night of tossing, turning, and trying to not watch the clock.
This journey down the rabbit hole started in college, and bloomed in grad school as daily pressures amplified. Since then, my struggle with insomnia have shifted from being unable to fall asleep when I first lie down to waking up in those darkest hours before dawn.
And over the years, I’ve learned a few things like eating just before sleeping often leads to a restless night, as does consuming alcohol (a few drinks may help you fall asleep, but you’ll likely wake up in the middle of the night). Caffeine, unsurprisingly, can also lead to sleeplessness, even if consumed hours before bedtime.
But the Mayo Clinic attributes most cases of chronic insomnia to stress, depression, and anxiety. In other words, influences that you can’t exactly wean out of your diet. But there are a few tricks that work, beyond counting sheep (a technique that has never worked for me).
1. Wind down before bedtime. Drink hot milk or take a hot bath before going to bed. Full body stretches (fingers to toes, lower back rotation stretches), or a few basic yoga poses before lying down can calm and center yourself.
2. Keep your bed reserved for just sleeping. Don’t read or watch TV in bed before turning off the lights. And if you still toss and turn, leave the bed and occupy your mind with something like reading for 20 minutes and then return.
3. Minimize the distractions. White noise machines or an eye mask can help cover up ambient distractions that can cause the mind to wander.
4. Try a natural sleep aid. There are legions of over-the-counter and prescription medication, and I’ve taken most of them. They helped me sleep, but they also left me feeling like a zombie the next day. A homeopathic sleep aid provides a less invasive method to get more regular, restful sleep.
5. Exercise. This is the one thing that’s most often helped with my insomnia and also combats the stresses of life. Daily trips to the gym, biking to and from work, and long trail runs or hikes on the weekend exhaust my body in the best of ways, while simultaneously letting me process the thoughts that create that stress (and the insomnia). At night, I’m tired, and I sleep.
And if all of that still leaves me awake in those dark hours from time to time, I put on my eye mask and practice mental relaxation by visualizing my favorite trail run. It’s a narrow route in Washington, DC’s Rock Creek Park that starts with a meandering uphill push. I envision each step, every detail of the trees flitting past me, my footfalls echoing on the rocks, roots, and leaves. I fall into that familiar landscape, cresting the hill, running along the ridge. And as I slip into a mental rhythm, the trees flanking the trail slowly funnel into a tunnel. I drift into it, and sleep blissfully returns.
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