As a single mother, I generally had a lot on my mind: children, work, bills, etc. Once in a while, I would be demonized by the inability to fall asleep. The problem is that in the dark the problems grow and become so much more significant than they actually are.
I finally got some great advice from a wonderful therapist who helped me tame the insomnia beast. I'll share my secrets with you:
This was a hard one for me. I tried futilely to tire my brain out by playing a game on the computer or putting on a familiar movie. I was fighting a losing battle. There are two reasons for this:
When your brain becomes engaged in something, it revs up and neurons begin firing and ricocheting. This is contrary to what it needs to be doing prior to sleep. The latest research suggests that artificial light coming from laptop screens, TVs, etc. suppresses the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
Anytime you play a game or respond to an email, your body actually tenses up and this tension results in the "fight or flight" response that prepares you for battle. Adrenalin is released and your ability to sleep is lost in the skirmish.
2. Establish a routine
Just as you should establish a routine with your children prior to bedtime, so should you set one for yourself. Give yourself a reasonable time to turn in. Try to do the same things at the same time in the same order. This trains your body to begin relaxing and preparing itself before you ever hit the pillow. Life sometimes gets in the way of the best plans, but the more you can attempt this, the smoother it will go.
Caffeine is fairly commonly known to disturb sleep, but contrary to popular belief, so is alcohol. Both actually cause disruptive sleep, deprivation and nightmares. Though it may help you in the short run to relax, in the long run, your sleep will not be sound.
Sometimes a simple shift in the arrangement of your bedroom can help. If you have to sleep when it's light out, purchase black-out shades or drapes. If you live in the city and are bothered by the noise, purchase a white noise machine or run a fan. Keeping your bedroom tidy will also make it a more pleasant place to come to at the end of a long day. Also remember that your body temperature drops at night, so your room should be cool and comfortable.
5. Avoid any exercise that is aerobic
If you routinely exercise (good for you!), avoid any that involve aerobics which get your heart rate up. Instead, do your aerobics earlier in the day and before bed, do some slow and simple stretches to loosen those tight muscles.
6. Grab a good book
I wouldn't reach for a thriller, but a good classic can help distract your mind from the worries of the day.
7. Count your blessings
Try to avoid thinking of problems that will plague you through the night. Instead, think of good things. I take this time to have a talk with God and thank him for all the goodness in my life. Some days are a little leaner than others, but I generally don't get through the list before I'm sound asleep.
No more simpering in the corner for you. Stand up and face the enemy. Routine is insomnia's worst nightmare, so turn the table on sleepless nights by developing your own nighttime itinerary. Sweet dreams!