How I cope with sleepless nights

Image shows a sleepy woman (Jess Wilby) wrapped in her duvet in front of a city backdrop, with a cup of tea.

Is there anything worse than sleepless nights?

For a long time I assumed that everyone struggled to sleep. When I was in university I used to toss and turn for 4 hours a night before drifting off (and shortly waking up again later). I thought this was totally normal.

Restless nights, paranoia, wandering thoughts, nightmares, mental exhaustion; this is not normal.

Have you ever felt like this? If so, the first thing you need to do is make a doctor’s appointment. I’m just a blogger, I can’t get to the root cause of your problem. However, I can tell you about a few things I’ve tried to help you start a dialogue with your doctor and find something that works for you.

Be careful when opting for medication

Over the years I’ve tried a number of prescribed and herbal medication options, each with varying results and I cannot stress enough how important it is to A) complete a full month trial period and B) chart your experience to feedback to doctors.

To give you an example, here’s my experience of over the counter & prescription sleep medication. I had the best night sleep I’ve ever had on amitriptyline but it made me way too drowsy the next morning and I started to struggle during my commute. One the other hand, people rave about over the counter herbal alternatives like Kalms. Unfortunately this gave me the most intense stomach cramps which kept me awake all night and weirdly set off my palpitations for a week. We always assume the herbal alternative will be a ‘safe’ option but in my case it wasn’t.

There’s a number of factors to take into consideration. Does it fit your lifestyle? Would the drowsiness effect your ability to make your way to work? Will you get night terrors? How will your body react? Keep a note of your concerns and use them to work with your doctor to create a full care plan. The more information you can give your doctor, the faster you’ll get to the bottom of your problems.

During the trial period of any prescription drugs, note down the way the medication makes you feel, so that you can access this with your GP after the trial. Keep an eye out for mood changes, brain fog, the way you feel getting up in the morning and physical changes such as rashes, water retention and weight gain/loss.

Don’t spend all evening in your bedroom

Be honest with yourself. If you’re sitting in your bedroom all evening, shutting off your tech just before bed and expecting to sleep as soon as you lay flat – you’re not going to get anywhere.

I know some people don’t have this option, but if you do, make sure you’re don’t stay cooped up in your bedroom all evening. Psychologically, reserving your bedroom for sleep means that your mind associates the room with that specific activity and you naturally begin to unwind when starting your bedtime routine.

Turn bedtime into an experience

Building up a good night time routine can be a positive step towards a good nights sleep. It’s going to take discipline though.

Start building up small habits that help you unwind. These actions that you perform before bed will become ‘psychological anchors’ which overtime tell your subconscious it’s time to sleep. It works in a similar way to what we spoke about in the previous section.

If the idea of trying to fall asleep gets you worked up, this will also help quell your anxieties. If you find yourself looking at the clock and thinking ‘Gosh how did it get to 2am?’ a night time routine will help you create personal boundaries and keep on top of your evening so that you don’t panic when losing track of time.

Image shows a close up shot of someone with a cup of tea hiding under a duvet cover.

My current routine looks a little something like this.
– Turn off the TV & main light in my bedroom, giving enough time for my room to cool. About an hour before I sleep.
– Fill up my Evian bottle and drink a full bottle before bed.
– Switch on my smaller yellow toned lamp.
– Remake my bed if I’ve been sitting on it.
– Brush my hair & tye it up.
– Brush teeth and wash.
– Sheet mask whilst laying flat on my back not touching my phone or ipad – using this as a mindful exercise.
– Facetime my boyfriend.
– During this I’ll make sure my screen brightness is turned to it’s lowest.
– Lay flat above my covers whilst chatting.
– Set my alarms and check my alarms before saying goodbye.
– End the conversation and completely switch off all my tech.
– Put my phone on my bedside table faced down.
– Use tension method referenced below.

It’s about finding a routine that works for you. Mine is extremely simple. I used to go over the top with aromatherapy, which you might find works for you, but personally I realised this was a delaying tactic. You could also consider a blue light detox which means avoiding all screens and small LED lights that keep your mind active at night.

Be honest about night terrors

Sleep paralysis and night terrors are treatable. ‘Nightmares and bad dreams’ aren’t just reserved for small children and they should be taken seriously. For your own mental health, please seek professional advice especially if these have been happening since trailing new medication. Both propanol and amitriptyline gave me night terrors after a few months even though seemingly perfect at first trial. If this happens, you are not helpless, there are countless options to discuss with your doctor which is why it’s important to keep tweaking your dose/trying new things.

Rest is best

Someone once tweeted that the best way to fall asleep was to pretend you already are. As you can imagine, I scoffed at this person’s ignorance. However, they could have been on to something. Pretending that you are already asleep can actually give you some slight comfort – hear me out.

I’ve been doing this on occasions when my neighbors have been making too much noise for me to sleep and it’s also helping to curb my anger. Instead of getting worked up about not being able to sleep. I start to tense up and then relax my body, bit-by-bit, bottom to top. So I’ll start by curling up my toes and then releasing them after 5 seconds. I do this with all my muscles and focus on the feeling of letting go. I hold on to the feeling of release and my body feels much lighter.

Once I’ve done this exercise I stay as still as possible in a comfortable position. I convince myself that even if my mind is active my body can still recharge. Knowing my body will still benefit from this takes away the stress of ‘needing to sleep’ and I stop getting annoyed with myself for not shutting off.

Resist the urge

Yes, you’re bored and uncomfortable, but for the love of God please do not check your phone. I promise this is only going to wake you up fully if you stir during the night. If your sleep is disturbed, try to stay as still as possible and slow down your breathing (short & shallow) to drift back into sleep.

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I’m reluctant to cover the basics such as ‘blue light detoxes’ and lavender pillow spray in any depth, mainly because these come under designing a bedtime routine that works for you.

Hopefully, regardless of this, you’ve been given some food for thought to talk things through with your GP or enhance your own personal sleep plan. Sleepless nights are not acceptable. You do not have to put up with them. Whilst some of these tips might work for you, what’s most important is finding out what’s keeping you up at night.

Be honest about your feelings and say what’s on your mind. You might not feel like something is bugging you until you address the situation. For example, my sleep issues peaked during university when I let them get out of control and didn’t address them. I never thought anxiety was keeping me awake because I just assumed ‘well ,everyone worries don’t they?‘ but on the day I completed my final project and handed in the last assignment I slept instantly. It was euphoric. I never knew that people could put their head on a pillow and actually sleep almost instantly.

I want you to experience that feeling too, so try out the tips above, contact your doctor and let me know how you get on.

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7 Comments

  1. May 11, 2018 / 9:28 pm

    This is such a helpful list to have! I used to struggle with this all the time but setting a routine and disconnecting from tech has helped quite a lot. Stress can definitely keep me awake, but I’ll try to keep these in mind for the next time 🙂

  2. May 12, 2018 / 6:56 pm

    There is nothing worse than a sleepless night! I always find it harder when I’ve spent the day in my room to get to sleep at night, such helpful tips!

  3. May 12, 2018 / 9:18 pm

    I really believe an evening routine is so helpful. I often meditate before sleep, and more often than not Im asleep before I get half way through!! 🙂

  4. May 13, 2018 / 8:30 pm

    one of the methods that’s worked for me is to really tire myself throughout the day… whether that’s physical activity or just spending the day reading. I find that when you’ve had to focus on something for a very long time and then going to bed becomes a relief that you just doze off. My mom and brother both suffers from insomnia though so when it’s as bad as that, unfortunately not much helps. All the best x

    OH, I love your bed sheets/cover!

  5. May 14, 2018 / 11:36 am

    I find that when i have a lot on my mind I can’t sleep as well as I normally would. These are fab tips to help others cope with sleepless nights.

  6. May 14, 2018 / 3:11 pm

    Your routine is fab. So many of us are staring at screens for too long before trying to sleep x

  7. May 14, 2018 / 3:53 pm

    My husband is insomniac and my daughter is a frequent waker as well…that being said, we added some melatonin rich foods to her diet and its really regulated her circadian rhythms.

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