Insomnia

16 Dec

There’s a lot to think about at 2:30 am.

Sleep issues have rarely been a thing for me.  For years, my primary issue related to sleep has been sleeping too much and getting way too comfortable with the snooze button.  However, there have been some incidents of sleep difficulties; those were very stressful times.  So lately I haven’t been sleeping well, but the odd thing is that I’m not really stressed out right now.  I am just not sleeping well.  My husband jokes that I wake up at the witching hour each night.  And I do.  I get up and shuffle around the dark house, with my little blind dog padding along behind me, wondering what the heck is going on and if he’s getting his breakfast.  I think about what I did today and what I need to do tomorrow.  I worry about silly things.  I wonder about other things.

I spend a lot of time talking to people about their sleep problems, as I imagine most mental health therapists do.  If a person is stressed out, chances are that their sleeping is affected by it somehow.  So I’ve done research, read articles and given suggestions on what to do to combat sleeping issues.  I’ve been using some of the very techniques I espouse and have found some to be quite helpful.  Here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • If awake for more than 15 minutes, get up out of bed.  This is a controversial one.  Some medical professionals recommend that even if you can’t sleep, at least stay in bed to get your rest.  That makes sense to me if you’re taking care of a baby or very sick and really need the rest.  However, if you are stressing about not being able to sleep and tossing and turning in bed, just get up.  This will prevent your bed from eventually becoming a place you associate with stress due to all of the tossing and turning and obsessing over how much sleep you are missing out on.
  • Write down all of the thoughts that are coming up in a notebook. It seems like an endless list of things that are running through the mind at 2:30 am, but chances are it is a handful of things on repeat.  Write them down.  Get them out of your head and onto paper.  Tell yourself I can’t do anything about this right now, but I will tend to these things in the morning.  If the worry thoughts are less in the category of things to do and more in the category of distressing thoughts, then you can rip up the paper after you write it down.
  • Stretch.  I like to start with some vigorous stretches that focus on large movement and aligning movement with breathing, for instance Crescent Pose and also Boat Pose.  Then I slowly bring the energy level down, doing calming poses that I hold for a long time, finally ending in some forward bends like Head to Knee Pose or Forward Stretch and perhaps Plow Pose– stretches that help the central nervous system to slow down.
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation.  Get back in bed and get comfy. Lie on your back and work your way from the feet to the top of the head.  Move from one part of the body upwards, tensing the muscles for several breaths and then relaxing them.  Start with your toes, your feet, your calves, your thighs, etc.  You can repeat this again, starting from the top of your head and then all the way to the tips of your toes.  This helps your body to feel more relaxed, and also has the benefit of keeping your mind focused on the present as it notices the tensing and the relaxing of all of the muscles.  Here are some links to some good exercises you can try: here, here and here.
  • Avoid looking at the computer, at the television or even reading a book.  These are all stimulating activities.  Try to focus instead on activities that are calming and centering.

Here’s what I will try to do prior to bedtime:

  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
  • Do not eat right before bed.
  • Spend a few minutes writing down thoughts or things to do the next day before turning out the lights.
  • Go to bed at the same time each night, get up at the same time each morning.
  • Sleep in a quiet and cool space.
  • Animals can disturb sleep- make them get out of the bed if they’re moving around or taking up too much room.
  • Figure out the the sources of stress and distraction and figure out how to deal with them during the day, rather than at 2:30 am!

So wish me luck with all of this!

Do you have any tips for getting good sleep?  

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2 Responses to “Insomnia”

  1. sarah cluff December 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    I, too, find myself encountering bouts of insomnia at times. it will often occur from a few days to a few weeks before my sleeping pattern rights itself.

    when my mind gets started at the witching hour, i am aware that i could be up for awhile. before i am awake long enough to let the thought of insomnia set in i get up, shuffle off to the bathroom or get a drink of water and head back to the comfort of bed. i try to preempt my insomnia with simple things to distract me that i may experience on any given night, and not let my brain start hoping that i will fall asleep.

    and for the nights that insomnia just won’t let go of me, i do my best to not worry about it. if my brain goes through its lists and thoughts, i recall that at least i am getting rest and do my best not to worry about not getting sleep. hard as it may seem, grumpiness comes faster to me if the attitude is not right. remain peaceful. this too shall pass. the clock is a timepiece, not an enemy.

    if i’m awake long enough that i know the mind will not be calm, i will get up and stretch, fold laundry, quiet chores that take little engagement of the brain. i’ll admit to watching videos, but my couch coupled with television is usually a recipe for sleep, so i aim for drowsy before returning to bed.

    when i know i have my mind free from its multiple monologues, rather than wishing i was fast asleep like my partner in bed, i use his breathing to help regulate my own. attentive to the calm, i am (often) able to doze off.

    i appreciate the suggestion of writing lists as well. i used to do that as a student when trying to read dense academic articles. having a list of thoughts to avoid becoming sidetracked could easily work for me when the brain and the hour don’t agree its time for sleep.

    i appreciate the calm perspective you bring .

    • blinddogmegan January 4, 2013 at 9:46 am #

      Hey Sarah! I just realized I did not reply to your comment earlier. Thanks for commenting! I like the ideas you bring up and it is helpful to know that I’m not the only one pacing around sometimes in the middle of the night. It’s actually been going a lot better lately, I think exercising during the day, doing a bit of yoga at night and taking care of stressful things during the day really helps a lot. I’ve been subbing a lot of yoga classes lately so sometimes if I can’t sleep, I think about yoga sequences and it puts me right to sleep. Kind of funny, but it really works. Happy New Year to you, Sarah! Hope all is well with you.

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