Steps to Healing Insomnia

It will take time and commitment

Often people with insomnia would have tried numerous self-help remedies. There is not a quick fix for insomnia or poor sleep, and the results will usually take time. However, insomnia is a condition that can be successfully treated using a number of lifestyle techniques. CBT and mindfulness are methods that can be useful for treating insomnia.

Changing your mindset

Embarking on an effective sleep programme will take much effort, and many changes will need to be made, for it to be successful. There will be times that it will seem uncomfortable or difficult and maybe even impossible, but that is okay. This is common when trying to change behaviour, but regular practice and perseverance will help. Only you and your efforts can make these changes.

The first step is acknowledging and accepting that changes are required. It most certainly will take motivation and a willingness to make the changes. One of the secrets to success when trying to improve your sleep is not to try too hard. Adapt your mindset to enjoy, believe in and trust the process.

Lets look at the lifestyle factors first of all. 

Lifestyle changes to prepare you for better sleep

There are some initial lifestyle changes which are advisable, and these will help prepare you for a good nights sleep.  Then some work on the inner self which will involve mindfulness and CBT will be required to restore your sleep to its most efficient and productive form.

Factor 1- Stop anxiety inducing habits

If you find it difficult to fall asleep, do not focus on this or try too hard as this can make the situation worse. Instead feel grateful for your body receiving rest and aim on moving into deeper relaxation instead. This helps to take the pressure off.

Avoid measuring your sleep. This can cause you to feel anxious if you are waking up and looking at the time, or using wearables to analyse your sleep. Overanalysing may also affect your sleep the next night as anxiety about not having enough sleep may increase.

If you do wake up during sleep, do not check the time as this may increase your worry. It is common to wake up briefly from sleep throughout the night between sleep cycles, which lasts just seconds and is forgotten by the morning. However waking up and remaining awake is what disturbs the sleep cycle.

Try not to focus on the quantity of sleep you may be having. There is not a set number of hours that every person should sleep. The sleep requirements vary from person to person. The quality of sleep plays a crucial role in how rested you will feel in the morning.

Factor 2- Set your sleep routine

By setting a sleep routine, it helps you adopt good sleep habits. It maintains the timing of your body clock (circadian rhythm) which in turn can help you to sleep and awake more easily.

Setting your bedtime early is important so that you do not miss out on the crucial first stages of sleep. Ideally, you want to have your first 90- 120 minute cycle of sleep before midnight. Aim to fix a bedtime for ten o'clock or half past ten at the latest, to allow for this.

Aim to rise at six o'clock or seven at the latest each morning. Maintain this pattern 

Factor 3- Cut down or stop smoking and drinking alcohol

Nicotine is a potent stimulant of the nervous system, and can keep you awake, and may cause you to awaken in the night. Smoking and nicotine are best avoided altogether, but especially 2-3 hours before bedtime.

Alcohol will often cause people to feel drowsy and may help you fall asleep. However, it disrupts the sleep pattern and can cause a restless night, often with more frequent awakenings. Drinking alcohol excessively will affect your melatonin levels. Alcohol affects both the quality and quantity of sleep, so is also best avoided during a sleep programme.

Factor 4- Avoid napping

Napping or sleeping during the day is not advisable when suffering from insomnia as it will affect your sleepiness at night. The exception will be taking a power nap if you are struggling to be productive during the day. This should be no longer than 15 minutes, and no later than 4 pm.

Factor 5- Reduction in caffeine

Caffeine stimulates your nervous system and can keep you awake. Its effects can last many hours. It is found in tea, coffee, energy drinks, some soft drinks, chocolate and in certain over the counter medication. Avoid caffeine consumption for 6 hours before bed. 

Factor 6- Stop using electronic devices before bed

All devices should be turned off at least 1 hour before your set bedtime. Electronic devices contain blue light which increases dopamine production and suppresses your melatonin production. Dopamine keeps you alert and dampens down the effects of melatonin.

Instead, spend your last hour before bed doing something relaxing that does not involve any electronic device.

Factor 7- Create a relaxing environment for sleep

Declutter your bedroom and create a relaxing and tidy environment, that has the least number of distractions.

Associate your bed with sleep, so only go to bed when you are ready to sleep. Avoid eating, watching TV or working in bed.

If you are affected by sudden external sounds such as traffic, you may benefit from having low-grade background noise otherwise known as white noise.

Dim the lights one to two hours before bed as bright lights are stimulating, and reduce the release of melatonin. Blackout blinds can help some people as they completely darken the room.

Factor 8- Avoid stimulating exercise in the late evening

Strenuous exercise has a stimulating effect on your nervous system, so may affect your ability to sleep. Exercise is important for your health and sleep so aim to incorporate it into your day, but avoid it in the late evenings. 

Factor 9- Wind down 1 hour before bed

Take a warm bath or shower about an hour before bedtime. This will help to relax you. A bath will raise your body temperature, and afterwards, your body will cool down. This drop in temperature is what can make you feel sleepy.

Other things to help you relax in the hour before may include aromatherapy, massage, yoga and meditation. 

Article written by
Disclaimer: This article is solely for information purposes. It is not to replace a consultation with a qualified health professional. It should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. The article is based on the opinions of the author who retains copyright. You are advised to make your own health decisions based on your research and alongside a qualified health professional. Please consult a doctor if you have any health concerns.

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