Alrite real talk for a minute. I’m an anxious kid. I started having full blown panic attacks in college, but it took me a number of years to realize that my insomnia growing up was not just me being a teenager and a brat but was a result of said anxiety. There are still nights that I lie awake and stare at my ceiling for hours, sometimes till dawn starts to peek through the darkness, wondering why I can’t just turn my brain off, as it seems to be so easy for others to do.
As a kid, maybe 9 or 10, I was staying up until 2 or 3, sometimes 4 in the morning. I’d sneak down to the TV room and watch infomercials or cooking shows until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. As a teen I would sit in front of the computer until I was so tired I couldn’t possibly keep my brain going any longer once I fell into my bed, but which made getting up at 5:30am for school nearly impossible (because I had gone to bed about an hour before that.) In college, I started the real joyful experience of having panic attacks in my sleep – and would wake up crying and/ or completely paralyzed. Don’t even get me started, it was as horrible as it sounds.
Thankfully, these occurrences are few and far between these days but sleepless nights definitely still crop up every now and then. (Usually caused by a sick puppy – dammit, Albie.)
The National Sleep Foundation considers insomnia chronic if it occurs 3 or more nights a week for at least 3 months at a time. Thankfully, it is no longer that bad – pretty sure the introduction of wine into my life in college has helped significantly on that front – but “acute” insomnia has probably happened to every one of us at some point. Those nights that jet lag or stress keeps you up staring at the ceiling, wishing for sweet, sweet sleep.
Well I’ve had a lot of practice, and I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks for helping you get to sleep or back to sleep. Now, I’m no doctor or medical professional obvi, so I must give the disclaimer that I have essentially no idea what I’m talking about and you should seek medical advice if you believe you have a problem. That’s what our lawyers told me I have to say. sidenote: Julie & Shae – do we have lawyers? Does google count?
First things first: if this is not just a one-off on a random night, but is an increasingly regular problem, caffeine should definitely be cut back on or out completely. There was a point in my life when I couldn’t have any caffeine at all, but thankfully the coffee gods have smiled down upon me once again. I do in general try to keep my caffeine intake to before 4pm, however. I know I’ve got friends who say caffeine doesn’t effect them, but biologically it does. If you’re having trouble sleeping, start with cutting out that afternoon cup o’ joe.
Bedtime routine: The more routine you are when it comes to going to bed, the easier it is for your brain to know its time to go to sleep. I know it can be
tough nearly impossible for us kids with “abnormal” work schedules to keep to going to bed around the same time and rising at the same time, but it can really help if you can pull it off. More importantly, establish a routine set of actions that you complete before bed no matter what time it is. Even something as simple as washing your face, brushing your teeth, then doing a few simple yoga stretches – in your bed! This helps your brain adjust from wake mode to sleep mode more easily.
Lights, cameras, sounds, oh my: This one is the TOUGHEST for me. It is widely known that looking at the bright lights of our smart phones / tablets / computers / etc. make it more difficult for our bodies to adjust to falling asleep – but the internet. so many wonders to behold. Guilty as charged, I fall asleep with my iPad in my bed more often than I care to admit – cough, every night, cough. But if I’m really having trouble sleeping, I turn it off. I keep a couple of the books I’m working on and a book of poetry that I like on my nightstand at all times. That in conjunction with having some christmas lights around my bed that are low light enough not to keep me up are my secret weapons for combating restlessness. The temperature of the room is important too, your body temperature being too high can have a significant impact on the quality and length of sleep. I need a fan year round, and keep a light weight blanket near my bed if my comforter is feeling to hot or constricting.
The final countdown: the last trick I have is truly the best one. Most of the above is probably not new to you if you’ve ever googled “having trouble sleeping.” The last one is counting sheep on steroids, if you will. It’s a mind game. Find a comfortable position, all lights off and room as cool as possible. Starting with your toes, imagine them falling asleep. Once you’ve got them sleeping move up your feet, concentrating on each part falling asleep individually – i.e. your instep, then your heel, then your ankle, and so forth moving all the way up your body to your head. Here’s the real kicker: if your mind starts to wander from the task, then you have to start over. I know it sounds really stupid and you’re probably thinking Danielle, you’ve lost it. There is no way that would actually make me fall asleep. But I swear it works. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever made it past my fingertips before I fell asleep. If you’re mind is running a million miles an hour, this simple task makes it focus on one thing, and not those thousands of thoughts, to-do lists, and tasks for the next day.
I could probably talk for days on this topic – but I’ve clearly written a novel already. Sleep is so, so important to maintaining both physical and mental health, and I’ve done a lot of research. Guys – I basically cited sources in this blog post. Puttin’ that history degree to use amiright?! But really, I just hope all you little babes get lots of dreamy beauty sleep – so I hope I’ve helped a little bit. I’ve never really talked about my anxiety in such a public forum, any one else deal with these kinds of problems? I’d love to chat in the comments.