Today’s self-care topic is sleep. We have all heard a million times that sleep is important, and for years, I abused it and took it for granted. Staying up too late on my computer working diligently on whatever project I had going. Waking up too early. Scrolling through my phone late at night. Falling asleep to movies in bed.
And for years, I had it good… really good. I fell asleep easily (within 5 minutes) and could sleep literally anywhere without doing a thing.
Then, something happened. And I wasn’t able to sleep. AT ALL. It all started one sleepless night on vacation. YES, you read that right... vacation in Mexico, much less! At first it was just that week, which I chalked up to a noisy room in a new place. But, then I returned home and it kept going, and I let it go to my head. My insomnia continued for 8 months, living off of 3-4 hours of sleep a night. On top of that, I developed some serious anxiety about not sleeping. It was brutal. And a time in my life I hope to never visit again.
After going through this sleepless period in my life, I discovered I am not alone in this. Far from it! Many suffer chronic insomnia, temporary insomnia due to anxiety and stress, or even hormone-related changes for us ladies going into menopause.
So I wanted to share what finally worked for me - after months of consistent, diligent effort. I’m no doctor, but I am hoping to impart some wisdom that I gained throughout the process.
Set up a routine and stick to it. Setting a routine every night is a way to trigger to your brain that it’s time for sleep. And I know this can be hard, but it’s one of the things that really helped me get over my insomnia. It didn’t happen overnight, or even during the first few weeks, but being consistent week after week helped my body relax and know what to do. For me, my routine includes a cup of Nighty Night tea (the secret ingredient is an ancient herb called Valerian. It's stinky, but works like a charm), putting my phone down (see tip #2), reading a book (not on a screen), applying some night time sleep oil or pillow spray, and sometimes stretching, or relaxing yoga.
Reduce screen time at bedtime. I know, I know. You've heard it a million times before. But it really does work. It's not just the blue light that affects your brain, it's also the content you are consuming which can cause stress or anxiety. Experts say to stop scrolling 2 hours before sleep time (yikes!!), but I try for at least 30 mins. It’s what I feel like I can commit to these days!
Make your bed a space only for sleeping and sex. This meant I stopped scrolling on my phone in bed, doing work, or even reading there. My sleep therapist recommended this one to me, and I ended up loving it. You can even set the tone in your room as a special place that you love going to, with luxurious sheets, low lighting or calming candles or scents.
Distract your mind. If you do a Google search for sleep techniques, you'll find thousands of ideas for distracting your mind, from counting backwards by 7, thinking of animal names for the entire alphabet, or imagining you are laying on a beach somewhere hearing the calming ocean sounds. This is a super important one especially if you find that your mind races as soon as you lay down, thinking of stressful parts of your day, regrets, what you have to do tomorrow and on and on. The distraction method I ended up loving the most is spending time in gratitude. When I lay down, I try to think of at least 5 things I am grateful for - specific to that day. It may be that the sun shined, or that I love the way my son giggles uncontrollably. Even on the worst days, I force myself to think of even something small that was a bright spot in my day. This also was the start of my daily gratitude practice, which I hold sacred now. (See, good things can come out of bad experiences!)
Don't lay for longer than 20 minutes at a time. Oh boy, this one was maddening when I first started! It came as a recommendation from my sleep therapist to play a little trick on your brain. If you struggle falling asleep, the rule is to not lay in your bed for longer than 20 minutes. If 20 minutes has gone by, get up and go do a calming activity (outside of your bed or even bedroom - say a comfy chair or couch) like reading, a puzzle, yoga, stretching, etc. But don't ... DON'T ... scroll through your phone! Once you feel tired or sleepy, lay down again. And continue with this process until you fall asleep. At first, I swear I did this process at least 5 times or more a night. It drove me absolutely crazy. The idea is that when you lay for hours not sleeping in your bed, you grow to really hate your bed. And so again, this is a little brain trick for you!
Stop caffeine after Noon. I think I am turning into my grandma! She used to say this all the time - that she wouldn't be able to sleep if she drank coffee or caffeine after about Noon. For a time when I was at my worst, I stopped caffeine all together (eeckkk!). But after I got my sleep routine down and started getting more sleep every night, I was able to add it back in without a problem. Now I am able to enjoy several cups of joe in the morning and am fine.
Don't use alcohol to put you to sleep. Because, to be completely honest, it will work like a charm. Alcohol can make you sleepy and make it easier to fall asleep initially, but it can affect the quality of your sleep and possibly make you wake up not long after falling asleep. During my worst times, I wouldn't drink after dinner. Now I can enjoy a glass later into the evening, but I try to stop about an hour or so before bedtime.
Talk to a licensed sleep therapist. When all else fails, and if you are unable to resolve it on your own, talk to someone. I quickly realized that I couldn't do this alone. I read about a million articles about how to get a better night's sleep, but for me, I needed some guidance and some tactics and progress tracking with someone who knew what they were doing. A trained psychologist in cognitive behavioral therapy will not only be able to impart healthy sleep routines, help you set up a good sleep environment, and ensure what you are putting into your body is not presenting a good night's sleep, they can also help you get to the root of the problem.
Going through this experience was a low point in my life, but it also taught me to never take a good night's sleep for granted. I'd love to hear from you! Have you ever experience insomnia if your life? What finally worked for you?
A Note from a Year Later...
Fast forward to December 2021, and as I'm re-reading this post to share with you again, I find all of the tips are still really relevant and helped me get over my insomnia. That said, I wanted to share a few more notes for you.
1. Normalize it.
One, the great news is that my sleep is almost back to normal. Almost. There are still nights where I can't sleep. (This NEVER happened to me before I had this bout with insomnia.) What I've come to realize is that normalizing sleep issues has been important for me. Whenever I relapse, and have a night where I can't sleep, instead of berating myself for not being able to sleep or assume something is wrong with me, I just say, "This will happen from time to time. It's no big deal." And I get up to read a book, then try again when I'm feeling sleepy again. (see tip #5) The point is, I'm telling my brain there isn't a problem here. This will happen sometimes, and I now have the tools to deal with it. And when it comes again - because it will - I can handle this. It's almost as if you are consciously choosing to NOT make it a big deal.
2. Things seem extreme now, but it will get better.
Secondly, I want to encourage you that if you're in the middle of sleep issues, things will eventually return to some sort of normalcy for you. The tips I listed above seem extreme at first. And when I was going through it, I felt like if I didn't do my nightly routine, which seemed like 15 steps every night, there was no possible way for me to sleep. But over time, I've been able to start drinking coffee again, and sometimes I have a cup in the afternoon, or I can have a glass of wine close to bedtime without screwing up my sleep. So even if you have to get really strict with removing caffeine or alcohol, or a regime at night that helps you wind down, at first to establish a routine for your body, know it doesn't have to be permanent. You may eventually keep some things from this routine, and let some other things go once your body knows what to do. I actually really enjoy my cup of nighty night tea before bedtime now, and I love that my bedroom always smells like a spa!
I sincerely hope this post has helped you, if for nothing else than knowing you are not alone. I felt very alone going through this difficult time in my life, and it felt almost impossible to function. Asking for help from a sleep therapist and letting people around me know what was happening was key, especially my employer at the time, but also friends and family. Know you are not alone. Reach out if you have questions, or drop a comment below.
Hi, I'm so glad you're here! I'm a Personal Virtual Stylist and owner of Style Decoded. I'm a Midwest born fashion lover on a mission to help women show up with more authenticity and alignment at work and in their businesses through their style, and feel 100% confident in their own skin every day. Styling is my passion but it hasn't always been my job. I spent 20 years of my career in client service, advertising, developing brands, blogging, podcasting, and creating marketing and social social strategies for my clients, ranging from Fortune 500 giants to individuals building their personal brand online. To say I know a thing or two about marketing and client service is an understatement! Now, I love teaching women how to define and own their unique personal brand through style.
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