It’s 3 AM and I’m lying awake in my bed. The only light in the room is the glow from my smartphone, which I know I’m not supposed to be using this late. At least, that’s what the sleep experts say. My guess is those experts have never spent hours alone in the dark, wide awake with nothing else to do. I open my internet browser, and in the search bar I type the words, “fall asleep.” I close my eyes and hold my breath as the search results load, hoping for a miracle this time around.
More than 30% of the population suffers from insomnia, and one in three people experience some form of insomnia during their lifetime.
The problem starts with the very definition of insomnia. The current definition of insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when a person has the chance to do so.
My guess is the person who came up with this definition has never struggled through a week of sleepless nights or tried to function through the following nine hours at work! How long has it been since you’ve had a great night’s sleep? How many hours have you spent lying awake in bed? How many days have you stumbled through, barely functioning and desperate for a few hours straight of quality sleep? Would you define your pain and frustration as a difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep?
If your treatment and solutions up to this point have been based on an outdated and misleading definition, then there’s the second big problem. We’ve been treating the wrong issue!
Healthcare providers manage the sleeplessness part, and that’s important, but what about the internal battle? What about the racing thoughts and the anxiousness you feel before you even get into bed? A quick solution in the form of a pill or a memory foam pillow or a decaf coffee doesn’t address all the thoughts and worries and plans whirling around in your brain when your head hits the pillow every night. The definition is missing several of the pieces that make insomnia so painful.
What’s the secret to ending insomnia? Ending the struggle!
Despite what many people might think, ending the struggle doesn’t mean popping a pill and passing out until morning. It means transitioning into a peaceful before-bed routine that includes preparing your mind and body for sleep, alleviating stress and anxiety, reflecting on the issues that are keeping you awake, and making your bedroom a haven. Ending the struggle is a whole-body experience and can be an incredibly beautiful and enjoyable journey.
How do we end the struggle associated with insomnia? There are six steps I used to relieve my insomnia symptoms, racing thoughts, and bedtime anxiety:
Repairing Your Relationship with Sleep
No one thing will cure insomnia and bedtime anxiety. Improving your sleep habits involves making several small shifts in your daily routines. If I were forced to choose one change in my life that has made the most significant difference in my sleep, and if I could only tell you one thing to do to improve yours, it would have to be this: Learning to love sleep was the single most important thing I did to improve it.
If you do nothing else, make it your new goal to make sleep your new best friend, no matter how complicated your current relationship actually is. It’s natural for us to avoid doing things we’re not good at. Our attitude towards improving the situation is going to be, why bother, but I want you to force it anyway.
Focusing on Rest
The struggle that consumes a person with insomnia and bedtime anxiety is that they can’t sleep. Sleep is the ultimate goal, and yet every effort they make only places sleep on a pedestal and pushes it further away. Get sleep as the goal out of your head and focus instead on rest.
Making Your Bedroom Your New Favourite Place
How is your relationship with your bed? Is it a love-hate relationship? Is it full of drama? Would you change your Facebook relationship status to It’s Complicated? If you often struggle with insomnia, restlessness, or bedtime anxiety, I don’t blame you if your bed hasn’t been your best friend lately. It seems impossible to enjoy spending time in a place that continually causes stress and negative emotions. It’s about time you and your bed had a heart-to-heart because surprisingly, improving your attitude toward your bed can improve your sleep quality.
Using Your Breath
By focusing your attention on your breath, without doing anything to change it, you can prepare your mind and body for quality rest and eventually sleep. Meditation, or focusing on your breath, is an excellent way of winding down for the night, letting go of the worries of the day, and calming your mind.
Ending the Fight
This is the part where you accept that you think about those things at bedtime. Your bedtime routine includes thoughts entering your mind. There is nothing wrong with you, and your thoughts do not have control over you. They are simply there. You are an intelligent person, and your brain works at night. It is not a flaw or a problem to fight with, it’s just a fact. You are not your thoughts. You can’t control what you think, but you can control how you react to your thoughts. When a thought enters your mind, accept it, and move on without a reaction.
Creating Your Evening Ritual
If I asked you to walk me through your before-bed ritual, would you respond with a confused facial expression and an audible Huh? Are you approaching sleep as something that needs to be prepared for, or are you going from vertical to horizontal with nothing but a few minutes in-between and wondering why it’s not working out? Transitioning from day to night with an evening ritual is one of the most important habits you can adopt.
How much time before you go to bed can you devote to your ritual?
For this example, let’s start with 30 minutes. If you go to bed around 10:00 PM, this means that 9:30 PM would be your ritual start time. A helpful idea would be to set an alarm on your phone that reminds you every night at 9:30 PM that it’s time to start winding down. The key is finding restful and relaxing activities that help you relax and feel sleepy.
My sleep didn’t improve after one significant change, and yours probably won’t either. It will most likely take many small shifts in your daily routine.
Instead of big changes think small shifts. Start small and experiment. Make a game of it. We’re going to spend one-third of our lives sleeping, we might as well learn to enjoy it!