Most people who know me, also know that I don’t have great sleeping habits. For around 16 years, I’ve survived being sleep deprived most of the time thanks to insomnia. But as a recovering insomniac, I think I’ve learnt a few useful things that have increased the amount and quality of sleep I get.
Everyone is different but hopefully some of my lessons will help you.
Problem: attempting to survive on 4 hours of sleep a night
I’m not going to lie – I used to pride myself on my ability to work and function even when I had only slept for a handful of hours the night before. And then I hit my late 20s and my body and brain didn’t want to play the game any more.
I didn’t even drink coffee for most of that time, so I have no idea how I did it! Eventually, I started needing caffeine to keep me going. I was doing work tasks that required me to sit and focus, rather than run around talking to people. I was so tired that I felt almost drunk. It was not fun and I wasn’t performing at my best. I was surviving, not thriving in both my personal and work life.
Downsides of my sleep deprivation:
- Increased appetite
- Struggling to hold conversations
- Inability to focus
- Slowed thinking and reaction times
- A negative impact on my mental health
Why wasn’t I sleeping?
There are lots of reasons for insomnia and I think I’ve been affected by a variety of them over the years. By the time I decided to make a change, it was a combination of anxiety and bad habits built up over the years.
5 lessons learned that have helped me get a better night’s sleep now:
1. Seek professional help
A lot of us seem to just accept sleeping problems as the way life has to be.
However, if lack of sleep is something you’ve struggled with for awhile and the usual tips aren’t working, speak to a doctor. They may be able to help you find out if your insomnia is a side effect of another problem or not.
This will help you work out what you need to do, in order to handle it effectively. This doesn’t necessarily mean medication but understanding the problem in more depth will make it easier to find suitable solutions that are right for you.
If your insomnia is linked to anxiety or depression (cause or symptom), you could consider speaking with a therapist. They can help you break down your thought processes and feelings around sleep. This helped me massively when I was struggling with anxiety, which was making me avoid going to bed in the first place!
2. Look at your surroundings
Marie Kondo your bedroom! I have noticed a massive impact in how well I sleep when I am in a space that is tidy, cozy and one that I like. It’s weird because we sleep with our eyes close but the impact is so significant that I don’t question it. Make your bedroom a nest, clear out the electronics (goodbye phone charger by the bed, adios TV and Netflix!) and turn your room into a sanctuary you love snuggling down into every night.
3. Change the script
For many years, I told myself that I was just naturally nocturnal, that 3 hours of sleep was fine and that I was just someone who struggled to fall asleep.
Telling myself this over and over again meant I wasn’t really open to changing and I wasn’t prepared to put in the work to make things better. Reading books about the damage sleep deprivation can do to your mind and body helped change that. It was the A-HA I needed. It’s so much more than just struggling to get through the work day.
I started telling myself that with the right behaviours and solutions, I could make positive changes. I began taking my sleep much more seriously and prioritising it over late night work or procrastination. This simple shift made a profound change, for the better.
4. Get strict with yourself
Once you’ve started to prioritise your sleep, you need to commit. Developing and sticking to routines, reducing your caffeine, screen time and all the other things we know that are good for us requires discipline.
There are rarely instant improvements, so we need to stick with the changes for awhile before giving up or trying something new. And if you’re anything like me, trying to kick bad habits that have existed for so many years isn’t easy.
One of the biggest lessons I learned was accepting that while a lot of the solutions are fairly simple and eventually effective, applying them isn’t easy. It takes daily discipline and a little bit of work.
5. Focus on making yourself feel good
It’s not all about tough love. Insomnia is awful and you don’t want to beat yourself up if it takes time to find the right routines and life hacks that work for you.
Instead of focusing on how horrible not being able to sleep is, make yourself feel good. Set bedtime routines that are about self-care. Have a bath, read a book that draws you in, put on nice PJs (made with high-quality fabrics) and/or invest in a soothing face mask. Whatever works for you.
Make your bedroom a sanctuary from stress – somewhere you want to be. And make sure you’ve got something to look forward to in the morning whether it’s a good cup of coffee, a healthy, hearty breakfast or time spent in the garden. Again, figure out what works for you.
Focus on enjoying your evenings and mornings and you’ll take away a lot of the negativity and anxiety around sleeping that makes insomnia worse.
Things have definitely improved. I’m not perfect and I still struggle but I tend to get closer to 6 hours of sleep a night these days, rather than surviving on just 3 or 4. I’m still a work-in-progress and always looking for ways to simplify my life, but the impact on my mental health, weight and brainpower is huge so I’m going to keep up the fight!
Resources I recommend
- BOOK: The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time by Arianna Huffington
- DREAM JOURNAL: Knock Knock Dream Journal by Knock Knock
- PODCAST: How to Make Self-Care ‘Non-Negotiable’ Through Sleep, featuring author and nutritionist Carly Pollack
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