Lack of sleep in the middle of the night isn’t always a bad thing, but it sure can be. Insomnia is maddening… it starts out irritating or boring, but over time it affects your energy, your memory, and even your sanity. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try these tactics before resorting to an artificial sleep aid.
Bedtime patterns: Teach your body how to relax and prepare for sleep at bedtime. Build a ritual of activities that you do every night. These should be low-key: Save the heavy exercise for the mornings. Relax for twenty minutes. Meditate. Take a hot bath or a slow stroll around the block. Knit, read, work on your model trains… whatever makes you feel peaceful and happy. This should not take place in the bedroom.
Timing: Try to go to sleep at the same time every night, before 11 pm. If you are having trouble with your sleep, get up the same time every morning, too (yes, on weekends!) to reinforce the training. If you find yourself awake at night, relax your body and try to drift off. If you can’t, get up rather than stare at the ceiling. If you think it’s possible to fall asleep, repeat your nighttime ritual and go back to bed. If not, do something else until you start to feel sleepy.
Avoid “screens” at night: Light stimulates the pineal gland (It’s daytime!). In the dark, the pineal gland produces melatonin, which helps you sleep. Watching TV or checking your email one last time before bed can be counterproductive. Note: Use this free app for your computer (Mac or PC) or iPhone to reduce visual stimulation after sunset!
Environment: The bedroom itself should only be used for sleep and sex. Prepare your space for restful sleep. If there’s a TV in there, take it out. It should be quiet. If you cannot achieve quiet, try some white noise from a fan to block out background chatter. The key here is to eliminate sensory stimulation. Likewise, your bedroom should be dark. Use opaque curtains or a blindfold if necessary. Personally, I use an eye-pillow. It blocks all ambient light, and the gentle pressure feels great. Blocking light is important because it allows your brain to generate melatonin (see above).
Exercise: Stimulating your metabolism through exercise is a great way to make you more awake during the day, and sleep better at night. This doesn’t have to be an epic weight-slamming workout – even a walk will help. The best time to get moving is the morning. Doing it just before bed will raise your adrenaline levels and make it harder to sleep.
Reduce caffeine: Try to limit your intake during the day and avoid stimulants after 6pm. This includes caffeinated soda and chocolate (sorry!). One Hershey’s kiss won’t make or break you, but use your common sense. Green tea contains less caffeine than black tea, and herbal tea is usually caffeine-free.
Percy, one of my former nocturnal visitors.
No disruptive pets in bed: I hate to admit it because I miss sleeping with my boys… It’s so sweet when they wake you up to tell you how much they love you. I miss their warm furry purring bodies… But I’m sleeping so much better now that we’re kicking them out of the bedroom at night. No wonder I felt exhausted for years! Brushing my teeth in the morning is a challenge, though, because they can’t get enough affection and basically leap into my arms.
Give your sleep some respect: I have people tell me they are too busy to sleep and they can’t stop working, but they need to remember that a tired brain is not efficient. Your memory and decision-making will suffer with sleep deprivation. Extreme exhaustion will literally turn a sane person into a temporary schizophrenic. Getting sleep is your job if you want to be productive!
Consciously relax: Breathing techniques and visualizations can be very helpful. Go to your happy place. Allow your body to go completely limp and imagine sinking into the mattress.
Acupuncture can be an invaluable tool in getting your sleep back on track. There are some specific points that help sleep. I also have a great treatment called Stroking the Dragon that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s terrific as an evening housecall. My patients tend to mumble “let yourself out…” into their pillows, and I hear snoring before I get out the door. :)
Acupressure for yourself! Try Du-20 & 24 as a simple combo. Du 20 is at the crown of the head, above the ears. Du 24 is half an inch inside the hairline (or where it used to be!). Put a fingertip on each, aimed towards each other, and press firmly but gently for a few seconds. Good night!
Press these two points gently but firmly, towards each other, for a few seconds at bedtime for better sleep.