The way to cure insomnia once and for all is...drum roll.... to relax into sleep. Now before you give up on me entirely for stating the obvious let me ask you if you have ever said "I cant sleep"? What I think it helps to understand is that that is not strictly true, sleep is possible, the problem is that with insomnia we are in a state where we are too alert to sleep, indeed you may find if you do begin to doze off, your mind jerks you back to full waking awareness, sometimes with an urgent thought, sometimes with a heartbeat. You may feel you have tried everything and nothing works, but let me share with you my approach, which uses everything, effectively.
So the aim is to relax into sleep, but, its not happening, no matter how hard you try. Many things have been suggested to you and you have tried them yet still you are blinking at the ceiling. My approach is to use them all, as much as possible and then to try to stay awake. Bare with me.
Ok before I go on heres a little check list of insomniacs aids to ensure you have a full tool kit:
- Lavender oil -rub a few drops into souls of feet or drop on pillow to automatically lower blood pressure and help induce sleep state.
- No Caffeine - caffeine is a stimulant, if you have trouble sleeping you need to eliminate stimulants from your life until your sleeping habits are effortless and well established and even then you may find caffine only messes with your new found sanity. Sources of caffeine and similar stimulants include: Coffee, energy drinks, black tea, green tea, yes green tea, guarana coffee, maté, chocolate. Good substitutes include red bush tea or rooibos, dandelion or chicory coffee, or decaf (although this is even more acidic than normal coffee)
- Sleepy time teas- most herbal tea companies produce a sleep inducing tea, if it contains Valerian your onto a winner I'd say.
- Darkness- if your curtains are feeble get an eye-mask.
- Yoga- very beneficial to sleep my Mother taught me to do three slow cobras before going to bed and it was one of the first things that helped.
- Exercise- it is important to get an enjoyable amount of exercise into each daybut other than yoga they sure all be finished a few hours before bed.
- The same goes for food.
- Be aware that alcohol plays havoc with your ability to sleep naturally and reach deep sleep states and withdrawal from alcohol causes excessive stimulation.
- Massage- can be very helpful in helping your body remember how to relax. As the therapists works through the body you become aware of releasing tension from areas you had no idea were you were holding, some people drift in and out of consciousness as their nervous system is soothed.
- guided meditations/hypnosis- there are countless numbers of these available on YouTube and the like, sift through till you've found one whose voice doesn't annoy you and listen to it every time you have trouble sleeping. The more you listen to it the more it will work.
- Eliminate as much stress from your life as possible- talk to a friend about the things on your mind then simplify your life as only you can.
- Eliminate stress cues from your bedroom- no work papers, bills, computers, TVs, switch off phones, make your bedroom a safe place to sleep.
- Do things that soothe you before bed- a warm bath/shower, reading something that's not disturbing, having a cuddle etc with someone you love, giving yourself a foot massage.
The more you use good sleep practices in combination with deep relaxation or meditation techniques the more you will learn how to trigger the chain reaction in your body that switches it back to the parasympathetic nervous system and lets you be at peace, able to sleep as required. Work on becoming aware of little things you can do to help, like letting your eyeballs rest heavy at the back of your head or feeling the whole silhouette of your body pressing into the bed, or observing your breathing. Each little thing that helps, contributes to your confidence in being able to sleep, and takes away from the stress of not feeling able to, and that is how you eventually end the battle, night by night. Good night.
Gillian Mcilroy BSc Psych.