I can’t sleep.

I hear this statement from clients almost every day.  So what makes sleep so hard, and what can you do about it?

Insomnia is a beast that can really start to take a toll on every aspect of our lives.  Overtime, research has shown that a lack of quality sleep can impact our physical health and immune system, our mood and outlook, and even shorten our life spans.  It also definitely impacts energy levels, focus, and even spills over into our relationship dynamics.

Sometimes it can just be hard to turn off our brains.  Insomnia is a diagnostic criteria for multiple mental health concerns.  Even without a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, or mood disorder, we still may find ourselves ruminating or worrying about things that have happened, or may happen in the future.

There is also a link to trauma.  Trauma is defined in a range of ways, from life-threatening experiences to chronic stress.  It changes how our bodies and brains function, and can make sleep more challenging.  In fact, some researchers suggest that trauma may actually be more of a sleep disorder than a mental health disorder.  Maybe we are replaying specific memories in our mind, maybe we’re in a spiral of self-criticism or judgement, or maybe our nervous systems are in a heightened state.  Regardless of the manifestation, all of these things can make bedtime its own nightmare.

There are also some self-care and physical/medical issues that can make sleep hard.  If you experience chronic pain, it may be hard to fall or stay asleep.  If you have sleep apnea, even if you fall asleep, the quality of your sleep is not restful or recuperating.  If you have medical concerns that might be impacting your sleep, please talk to a medical doctor or sleep specialist.

What do I do about it?

It might depend on what is causing your sleep difficulties, but here are some basic things that are helpful for many people.

  • Create a sleep routine that is soothing.
  • Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine, at least six hours before bed.  As alcohol metabolizes, it also acts as a stimulant, so using it to help you fall asleep can be counterproductive!
  • Set up your room to be sleep-friendly.  Keep it cool, find a source of white noise, and make sure it’s dark.  Keep your bedroom as a sleep and sex only zone, so your brain knows what it is supposed to do in that space.  
  • Go to bed when you’re tired.  Listen to your body.  It is easy to push through drowsiness to read the next chapter, watch the next episode, or get to the next check-point.  That also leads to your body producing more adrenaline and other chemicals to help you stay awake, which makes it harder to fall asleep when you’re ready.
  • Be consistent.  It sucks, but having a consistent sleep schedule really helps.  Pick your bedtime and wake-up time, and help your body’s internal clock regulate for you.
  • Self-care.  Some foods interrupt sleep or cause problems like indigestion that keep you awake.  Getting up because you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night can make it harder to get comfortable or fall back asleep.  Exercise close to bedtime can be activating.  Take care and be intentional!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve heard that all before.  So what if that stuff isn’t working, despite you giving it the old college try?

Train yourself to calm down and relax. 

You can do this through meditation, progressive relaxation, and even self-hypnosis.  I like a technique called Autogenic Training.  You can check out my post about that here, which includes a free recording.  There are also many apps, videos, and other guides available on these processes.  Just do your research, vet them, and make sure you are utilizing reputable sources. 

Go to therapy.

Also, if you’ve experienced trauma or are dealing with anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges, seek out support! Don’t keep suffering. Find a good therapist. Sometimes the best routines, best self-care, and best meditation practices just aren’t going to cut it. Therapy can help us find the roots of an issue, and heal the underlying distress.

When we experience chronic sleeplessness, our bodies compensate by flooding us with more chemicals to try and keep us going and awake.  This can become a vicious cycle, since those chemicals then tend to make it more difficult to fall sleep.  Give yourself several weeks of a routine before you decide it isn’t working.  You’re rewiring your brain, and you body needs a chance to catch up! Though it can be frustrating, it is worth it. You NEED and DESERVE to rest.

If you want help processing trauma, worry, or other things that make it difficult to sleep, get in touch to schedule today.

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