A Former Insomniac's BEST Tips for a Good Night's Sleep
There was a time in my life where I couldn't remember the last time that I had slept through the entire night without waking up. Peaceful sleep just wasn't a part of my reality and I had gotten used to waking up at 2, 3 or 4am, unable to go back to sleep.
I would wake up and do the worst thing that you can possibly do when you're trying to go back to sleep: I would think about the future and ask myself: "what am I doing with my life?!?" - Terrible idea. Unavoidably, this would result in stress, anxiety and, often, in me grabbing my laptop in the middle of the night, opening up a blank Word document and coming up with a 10-year plan. Yeah, I did that. A few times.
Along the way, I picked up a few habits, practices and rituals that have helped me tremendously. I'm happy to report that I now sleep like a baby - which has had a positive impact on all areas of my life. Sleep is an essential part of a healthy, happy life. Without it, life can feel miserable! If that's where you're at... I hear you. I've been there. I hope that these tips can help you get the rest you so deserve.
#1 FIGURE OUT WHAT'S BOTHERING YOU & PRACTICE SURRENDER
This is for those of you who can't sleep because you have something on your mind. In my case, I was very anxious and worried about my future. That's always what I would think about when I would wake up in the middle of the night.
I encourage you to get clear on what it is exactly that is bothering you. Getting clarity on that is the first step to being able to release it.
Once you have figured out what's bothering you, time for the most difficult task: surrender.
If I could go back to my 19-year old Self, I would tell her to put the laptop down and stop worrying so much. I would say: "baby girl, you have NO idea what the future has in store for you. You can do all the planning you want, things will turn out better than you could have ever imagined. Stop trying to control life. Let yourself be surprised by life. Everything will be just fine. I promise."
For me, having a spiritual practice is what has helped me to release my need for control. Through meditation, yoga and breath work, I connect on a daily basis to an energy that is bigger than myself. I connect to nature, the universe, the whole world... and I become aware of the fact that there are things at play that I cannot understand.
I like using the following affirmations:
- I am exactly where I need to be, to get to where I am meant to be.
- Everything in life happens for me; never to me.
- I trust. I surrender. I trust. I surrender.
#2 GO OUTSIDE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE AFTER WAKING UP
This has become a crucial part of my daily routine. Exposing our eyes and our skin to the sun (yes, even if it's cloudy outside) as soon as possible after waking has been shown to have a hugely positive impact on sleep for the following reason: getting outside within 30mn of waking up kick-starts the "Cortisol Awakening Response", i.e. a hormonal release which helps you to feel awake and alert to start your day. When that happens, this tells your body to release Melatonin (AKA the Sleep Hormone) 14 to 16 hours after that first spike in cortisol. Therefore, going outside in the morning guarantees that you will feel tired 14 to 16 hours after that!
On this topic, check out this study which explained that "when people are exposed to sunlight or very bright artificial light in the morning, their nocturnal melatonin production occurs sooner, and they enter into sleep more easily at night.". I also highly recommend this podcast episode by Dr. Mark Hyman!
#3 TURN THE LIGHTS DOWN LOW ONCE THE SUN IS DOWN
Here's the thing. In nature, when the sun goes down, all mammals go to sleep. Us humans (as well as the pets that we have domesticated) are the only exception to that rule: when the sun goes down, we turn on a whole bunch a bright lights and screens!
The issue with that is that light crushes our Melatonin levels (our Sleep Hormone, remember?). In fact, it takes just a few seconds of bright lights to bring our Melatonin crashing down! This is why you should also pee in the dark if you go to the bathroom in the middle of the night ;)
Your parents were onto something when they would take your screens away before bed as a kid!
#4 ESTABLISH ROUTINE & STRUCTURE
When we think of re-establishing a healthy sleeping schedule, the first thing to think about is the Circadian Rhythm. The Circadian Rhythm is our natural internal clock which is responsible, in part, for waking us up in the morning and making us feel sleepy at night.
One of the best ways to reset our Circadian Rhythm is to focus on routine & structure: waking up at the same time each day, eating meals at the same time and going to bed at the same time are all things that can be helpful to "teach" the body to get tired at a certain hour in the evening.
#5 REMOVE THE PRESSURE
The worst thing that you can do for your sleep is to put too much pressure on it. Telling yourself things like: I HAVE to solve my sleeping problem; I'll be SO tired tomorrow; I MUST sleep now, ... that's like buying a direct ticket to insomnia-ville.
See if you can shift your mindset around sleep. Because sure, it's important. But putting too much pressure on it will just make things worse. For me, just accepting that I might be tired the next day if I don't sleep well and that, at the end of the day, that's not as big a deal as I make it out to be, is very helpful. Whenever I have trouble sleeping, I make some herbal tea, turn on a gentle light and read in the living room until I feel tired again. I tell myself: "No big deal. I'll just be tired tomorrow - that's okay".
Instead of thinking in terms of "I need to fix my sleeping problem", think "I need to take optimal care of myself" as that will have a direct impact on the quality of your sleep anyway.
Those are my best recommendations - but it doesn't mean that you have to implement everything right away! Pick the one that resonates the most and stick to that for a while to see if it helps.
Wishing you rest and relaxation,