“Sleep Better, Cope Better”:
6 Insomnia Causes & Cures
Sleep is one of the best tools to improve mental health. It serves to restore the mind, gives us energy to handle life’s situations, and helps us manage our emotions too. Lack of sleep is associated with higher rates of anxiety, depression, stress, worry, poorer thinking, decision-making, and judgment, and overall, poorer coping. As I always say, “Sleep better, cope better”.
And I would know. Having struggled with insomnia off and on for most of my life, I know that when I’m sleep deprived I’m grumpy, irritable, and just can’t seem to be nice! That’s why I’ve focused so much of my education on the topic of sleep—I know the extreme difference that quality sleep can make. And I’m not alone. An estimated 30 to 55 % of Americans will struggle with insomnia in their lifetime, and that makes for an awful lot of poorly coping folks out there!
If you feel like you’re one of those poorly coping folks, then I’m here to help. Below are some of the most common causes of insomnia that I see in my practice (and in myself!) and some of the solutions I usually offer. I hope they help you sleep easier and cope better!
6 Insomnia Causes & Cures:
Cause#1: You can’t settle down to sleep in your bedroom at night.
Cure: Establish a bedroom and bedtime routine that encourage sleep. 1) Set your bedroom up with soothing colors, a comfortable mattress and bedding, and items that calm you. Use your bed for sleep only, and refrain from doing mentally stimulating activities in your bedroom like work or even watching TV. 2) Then, remember that bedtime routines aren’t just for kids–adults need them too! Your mind and body need time to quiet down, so begin your routine an hour before you want to fall asleep. Your routine might include getting ready for bed, reading, taking a bath or shower, listening to calming music, or whatever promotes sleep for you. Do what works for you, and be consistent!
Cause #2: Thoughts, worries, and negative emotions flood you when you lie down to sleep.
Cure: Write it down, then “dream” yourself to sleep! 1) Turn on the light and write it all down. Getting the thoughts or worries out on paper gets them out of your head, reduces intense emotions, and gives you the chance to leave it ‘til morning and fall asleep easier. 2) Then, instead of thinking of all the “negative” stuff before you fall sleep, focus on the good. Visualize your desires, hopes and vision for the future, and “dream” yourself to sleep. You’ll not only fall asleep smiling, you’ll sleep better and wake happier too!
Cause #3: You can’t relax enough to fall asleep.
Cure: Go to bed only when you’re sleepy, and learn relaxation skills. 1) Make sure you only go to sleep when you feel sleepy. If you’re not sleepy yet, engage in a calm activity (like reading, light housework, etc.) until you’re ready to lie down. 2) Another great tool is to learn relaxation skills like deep breathing, meditation, and visualization. Then, practice these skills for 10-30 minutes before bed. Listening to the same soothing music each night is also a good way to condition your body to relax into sleep.
Cause #4: You feel sleepy in the daytime and awake at bedtime.
Cure: Re-program your body to fall asleep on time. 1) Limit caffeine and sugar after about 3 pm. 2) Set your alarm to start waking you up earlier. This should help you feel more tired at bedtime. 3) If these aren’t working, your internal “clock” might be off. You can reset your circadian rhythms with light therapy. Sit in direct sunlight (either by a window or outside) in the early morning for 20-60 minutes each day for 2 weeks. If you don’t live in a sunny place, you can buy a light box for the same effect. Sunlight helps reset your body’s sleep patterns naturally, allowing you to fall asleep earlier and feel more rested in the daytime.
Cause #5: You fall asleep fine, then wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep.
Cure: ”Get up” to get back to sleep. After 15-20 minutes, if you’re unable to sleep, leave your bed and engage in a calm, quiet activity. (My preferred option is cleaning out my closet; it’s not interesting enough to keep my mind awake, and it’s physical enough to wear me out). Repeat as needed. Trust me, though it may not happen immediately (or even that same night), you’ll eventually get tired enough to sleep again!
Cause #6: You’re a clock-watcher, lying awake, counting the minutes of sleep you’ve lost, and reminding yourself of just how tired you will be the next day!
Cure: Turn the Clock around and stop telling yourself lies! Watching the clock just sets you up for failure, filling your mind with negative thoughts that make sleep even more elusive. Instead, set your alarm before bed, then turn the clock around. If you can’t see it, you’ll be forced to let it go. And stop criticizing yourself for your lack of sleep. Most of what you’re saying is probably not even true–you can’t predict tomorrow, and it certainly won’t help you sleep any better tonight!
This is, by no means an exhaustive list (pun intended) of insomnia causes and cures, so be on the lookout for more posts like these on sleep and mental health. If, however, you’ve tried suggestions like these and nothing seems to help, you may be experiencing a sleep disorder. Talk to your healthcare provider, who can refer you to a sleep specialist. Until next time, here’s wishing you solid sleep, sweet dreams, and strong coping skills!
I want to know: What are your biggest sleep concerns? What works and what doesn’t work to improve your sleep? How does sleep affect your mental health? Leave a comment below and let us know!
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