October 16, 2014

How I’m Dealing with Insomnia

Ever since returning from my recruiting trip to New York a few weeks ago, my sleep schedule has been off. At first it was the normal time zone issues: I was naturally getting up much earlier than usual (5am) daily. I didn’t stress too much about it, though – I figured my schedule would eventually start shifting back to normal, especially when I’d go for a late night or two out with friends. I was definitely indulging my weird sleep schedule by going to bed earlier than usual, but the problem was that even when I did stay out late, I wasn’t sleeping in. Like last Friday, when I didn’t go to bed until 1am… but still woke up at 5am. That is not enough sleep to make me feel good! I ended up having to cancel my Saturday night plans in order to go to bed super early (um, 7:30pm? Yup, I’m an old lady), and sleeping 11 hours that night. Fine, but not ideal.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to normalize my sleep schedule, and it’s in large part because of random bouts of insomnia – like last night, when I went to bed at midnight but woke up at 4am and just could not get back to sleep. Just about every source tells you that if you’re not sleepy, it’s a bad idea to lie in the dark and try to force yourself to sleep, so I read for 20 minutes, then tried to sleep for a bit, and finally ended up just getting up and starting my day super early. But that meant that once again, I had to cancel my plans tonight so that I am able to go to bed early and catch up. I hate canceling plans, and I feel like this is just further perpetuating more insomnia by giving me a lot of sleep tonight that will make it hard to sleep tomorrow! To try to break the cycle, I decided to take a little bit of time today to research some tips for what to do when I can’t get to sleep.

First, one of the most popular tips is to use your bedroom only for sleeping and keep electronics out of the room. I am actually doing pretty well on that front! When I lived in NYC, my bedroom was kind of my all-purpose room: I watched TV in bed, I worked on my laptop in bed, and I even sometimes had a breakfast tray so that I could eat in bed (usually while reading or watching TV). Um, not good! But since moving to Colorado, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had my laptop in my bedroom, and I usually don’t go in my bedroom at all between when I wake up and when I go to sleep. I will admit that it’s kind of sparse as a result, but this week I received a huge canvas that I ordered with a really calming picture I took while running the Prince of Wales Island Marathon. I love waking up to the peacefulness of the Alaskan shores… and also the subtle reminder of how much I love running and how I should really hit the gym first thing šŸ™‚

Laura Bedroom
Yes, I keep a bike in my bedroom… at least for now. I haven’t figured out where else I’d like to store it yet.

Anyway, with the electronics/bedroom activity cleared, my next stop was to check out aromatherapy. I knew that lavender is sleep-inducing, but I don’t really like the smell of lavender. Ditto for chamomile. However, I learned that vanilla is also a sleep-inducing scent, and I love vanilla! Tonight I am spritzing some Bath & Body Works Blackberry Vanilla spray in my room, and then this weekend I’d like to pick up some sort of straight up vanilla-scented product and use it frequently so that my bedroom is always vanilla-scented. That is kind of a fun step to take šŸ™‚

I’ve also set the old school iPod that plugs into my bedside alarm clock to be tuned to my “sleepytime” playlist. This is a playlist I made years ago, mostly for use when I need to sleep on planes or otherwise in weird places/go off my normal sleep schedule. And I never realized it till now, but perhaps that was inspired by my Huggies personalized lullaby tape that I used to fall asleep to as a little kid? “Laura… Laura… it’s time for bed now!” (Tell me there is someone else out there who had this!) I remember that soothing 80s voice so clearly, and I actually just found a copy on YouTube, so maybe I’ll be giving that a try too… ah, childhood memories. Anyway, I’m not going to play music every night to put myself to sleep, but I think if I keep some music queued up, I can turn it on when I do wake up unable to sleep – and then hopefully focus on that instead of whatever else is running through my crazy wide-awake-at-2am mind.

Speaking of which – I have to say that this DailyBurn article scared me a little bit. Specifically:

“When a person who has always slept well suddenly has trouble falling or staying asleep, doctors look for two factors… The precipitating cause and the perpetuating cause. The former is a stressful event, good or bad, that creates an initial disruption of sleep. The latter is the reason insomnia continues, even after that stressful event has passed… The biggest perpetuator, says Feinsilver, is behavior ā€” for instance, not going to bed and getting up at the same time every day.”

What makes me nervous is the fact that I have been trying to go to bed and get up at about the same time every day – so my sleeplessness is probably much more about the precipitating cause. I have been stressing about a few things lately, so clearly I need to spend some time figuring out how to deal with them. When I have a lot of things to worry about, I often find it helps to write them all down and see them in front of me. It may sound scary, but that usually jump starts my brain to thinking of solutions. I’ve found that with to do list items, I can stop stressing about them as soon as they are written down (and therefore I know I won’t forget to get them done). So, I’m hoping the same approach will help for the things that are stressing me out.

Finally, this Greatist article had one tip that I had never heard of, but seems pretty cool:

“Do some leg exercises. We know; we told you not to exercise before bed. But apparently some easy leg lifts, squats, or your leg exercise of choice can help divert blood flow to the legs and away from the brain. This can help quiet the mind, making it easier to slip into dreamland.”

That is a really neat little scientific trick! My friend Brit’s no-equipment Labor Day Legs Workout, if done slowly, could fit the bill for wearing my legs out without getting my heart rate up. Plus, that has the added bonus of strengthening my muscles while getting me ready for bed – not too shabby.

What are your best tips for dealing with insomnia?


4 thoughts on “How I’m Dealing with Insomnia”

  1. At least you were productive on that morning you couldn’t sleep past 4? I know, not a good thing, but at least that’s a positive. I get restless legs about once a week, usually on my rest days, and it makes it really hard to sleep. Doing leg exercises really does help. Also, a really boring podcast (for me, something on economics) that I can just space out. I think having that background noise helps.

  2. I wanted to add, just with the hope of maybe helping 1 person if nothing else. It helped me when I was desperate and there is little info out there about this. Eating. Yea, everything you read usually says not to eat before bed because of digestion and fat etc. But if you exercise, and I do, it could be the opposite. I was waking up ever couple hours because my body was telling me I was hungry. Took me forever to figure this out! Hope it helps someone!

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