If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I suffer from a few chronic conditions – one of those conditions is chronic insomnia. Insomnia is something I’ve lived with for more than thirty years. There’s nothing worse than feeling tired and wanting to sleep – but not being able to sleep at all once you hit the sack.
In this article, I’ll share some tips I learned on living with insomnia and how you can rest better.
Before we get into how to treat chronic insomnia – let’s go over the basics of what it is.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that affects millions of people around the world each year. Your body may feel tired but the moment you lie down, you start to toss and turn. Your mind just won’t let you rest. Not getting enough sleep can severely impact your life – you might have mood swings, you might feel lethargic and move slowly during the day, or worse – you could seriously hurt yourself in an accident at work or while driving.
Insomnia can last for days. If you have chronic insomnia, it can last for weeks or even months. My longest spell with insomnia was over two months. I also had sleep paralysis during this time.
Symptoms of Insomnia
- Feeling tired but not being able to sleep when you lie down
- Feeling anxious or stressed out about daily life – and not getting enough sleep
- Mood swings, depression, living in a state of confusion or “brain fog”
- Waking up several times during the night or waking up too early and not feeling rested
If you wake up during the night and are unable to breathe or feel like you are choking – you may want to get tested for sleep apnea which is a condition that can cause weight gain and breathing problems.
Causes of insomnia
For me, insomnia comes and goes. Staying up too late or sleeping in one day or even having a nap can throw off my sleep schedule. Drinking caffeine too late in the day – coffee – can make it hard to sleep. Or working out too late in the evening might be the culprit. But the number one cause for my insomnia is – anxiety.
- Stress or anxiety
- Change in work schedule or traveling often for work
- Poor sleeping habits and sleep hygiene
- Eating too much late in the day or drinking coffee past a certain time
- Hormonal shifts or conditions like menopause
- Aging can cause you lose sleep as you get up to go to the bathroom more
My father used to sleep like a log until about five or six in the morning. When he started showing signs of Parkinsons, he started getting up three or four times during the night.
Some medications can cause insomnia like GERD, Parkinsons and Alzheimers, asthma, diabetes, cancer, restless leg syndrome or living with chronic pain.
Take it from me, getting out of an insomnia funk can be difficult. My worst spell with insomnia happened in 2013-2014 when I fell ill. I went through all the tests you can imagine and everything was coming back normal. The moment I would lay down, my body would go into spasms or cramps and it prevented me from sleeping. The longest stretch that I went through was 100 hours without sleep – at all.
Finally, after getting five weeks of iron infusions to help with the cramping – I managed to grab some sleep. I had tried everything – even sleeping pills – and nothing was working. Things were so bad that I attended a sleep clinic before going back to work. Here are some things I learned on how to manage my insomnia.
Regular sleep schedule
This is crucial. Going to be around the same time and getting up in the morning around the same time is important to help naturally regulate your body and get your “internal clock” working again. I’m working on this now – I can’t seem to get up earlier than 9 am and going back to work is going to be such a shock. Avoiding naps is important too – I’ve managed to get through the day without a nap for several weeks now.
No caffeine past noon
If I drink coffee later in the day – than it may impact my sleep. I’ll have one or two cups of coffee in the morning and won’t drink it for the rest of the day. If I do get the caffeine craving later in the day, I’ll try and get a latte with skim milk. Or you could switch to decaf.
Daily exercise helps me to sleep better at night time. The best sleep I ever had was after an aquafit class. Or after a steam massage with a salt scrub. My skin also felt amazing – I’m actually do for one any day now.
Sunshine and Vitamin D
Getting some sunshine and natural vitamin D not only will help with your mental health but it can also help improve your sleep. If you live in a place like Alberta where we have such short winter days, I recommend getting a SAD light or talking to your doctor about taking vitamin D supplements.
Because of my history, I take two vitamin D3 gummies in the morning. My condo has large windows that lets in a lot of natural light and it can feel like I’m outside. I know going for a long walk or a hike in the wilderness can help me rest well.
As many of you know, I practice intermittent fasting to help lose weight. While weight loss progress is slow going, eating between certain times can help you sleep at better at night. I now eat between 11:00 am and 8:00 pm at night. Sometimes it’s 12:00 and 8:00 or 11:00 and 7:00 pm. But never past 8:00 pm at night time. This way I am never going to bed on a full stomach.
Eating healthy foods and staying hydrated can also help!
Practicing good sleep hygiene is an important part of sleep well. Some people take baths or showers at night to help unwind after a long work day. My nightly ritual is to listen to some relaxing music before bed. Wash my face and neck. Make sure the bed is neat and sheets are tucked in. If my room is messy – I have to pick up things off the floor or take them off the bed – or that distracts me from sleeping.
Brushing my teeth, brushing my hair and even what I wear can impact my sleep. Sometimes a fan or white noise can also help block out other noises that may be happening.
I love my blackout curtains as well. These really help in the summer time when the sun is out early in the morning – way earlier than I need to get up.
Some people swear that meditation or yoga can help them sleep better. For me – I might listen to some Native American flute music or yoga music to help clear thoughts from my mind. Add in a cup of sleepy time tea and this can really help you catch some z’s. Check out my meditation page for some youtube suggestions.
No screen time!
Get off your computers and put your phone away for the night. Keep the phone on a nighttable and close the cover so you can’t see messages come in. If you need to, turn the phone on silent. Turn off notifications from social media sites that might otherwise keep you up.
If you’re using meditation music, lie down and close your eyes in your bed while listening to the music. Turn off all the lights and your phone.
If you’re a reader, you can try reading a book to help tire out your mind.
If anxiety is affecting your sleep, you may want to consider therapy to get to the bottom of what’s causing your anxiety. Sometimes things are out of our control – as I’m learning – and you may need more help.
Talk to your doctor about medications that can help ease your anxiety or help you sleep. Melatonin is a natural supplement that can work to regulate your sleep schedule naturally. However, it doesn’t work for everyone. If you’ve tried Melatonin and all the remedies I suggested above – then you may need medical intervention to stop your insomnia.
I am seeing my doctor later today and will be asking for a little “help” for my insomnia. I don’t ask for medications often and she knows this. She may have some new ideas that can help me out. If she does, I’ll report back here.
There may be a medical condition that is causing you to toss and turn during the night – if so, then I highly recommend that you go for some labwork and routine tests with your doctor to rule things out.
Do you suffer from insomnia? What tricks have you learned to help you sleep at night time? Let me know in the comments!