I’ve had insomnia for as long as I can remember. Since childhood. I get some weeks where I sleep absolutely fine but I can go for days and even weeks where I barely sleep a wink. It comes and goes. Sometimes, I can’t get to sleep. Other times, I fall asleep okay, but then wake up at stupid o’clock and can’t get back to sleep. Sometimes it’s both. It doesn’t seem to be caused by anything in particular. I can have a lovely, relaxing day and not sleep a wink that night, although when I’m stressed, emotional or under pressure, it certainly gets worse.
I’ve read hundreds of articles on how to beat insomnia. I’ve tried every remedy suggested – but they don’t make any real difference. I have a house full of lavender-scented products thanks to well-meaning family and friends. I don’t drink tea, coffee or any caffeinated/fizzy drinks (I don’t actually like them, if I’m honest). I don’t have a TV in my room. I’ve tried camomile tea, lettuce sandwiches, bananas, warm milk before bed, a nice bath (they just wake me up). None of it makes a blind bit of difference when you have proper insomnia, rather than just being a regular person experiencing the odd few sleepless nights. That whole thing about smart phones affecting your sleep? I had insomnia for at least a decade and a half before I had an iPhone. Whether I turn my phone off an hour before bed or not has no impact at all on how I sleep.
However, there are three things that have massively helped me with my insomnia. They’ve not cured it, but they have definitely made a difference, so I’m going to share them here in the hope that other people will find them useful.
- Acceptance and state of mind
After years of getting upset and emotional about my inability to sleep, stressing about what I could do about it, and walking around with an “I’m so tired” mindset, one day I just accepted it and it has completely transformed things for me.The way I see it, just as some people have asthma or high blood pressure or diabetes or whatever, I have insomnia. And just like people with all those other conditions don’t let it control their life, neither do I. I’ve accepted it’s unlikely I will ever cure it completely. It’s just one element of who I am. Instead of walking around thinking, “Oh, I’m so tired. When will I ever sleep again?” I put on clothes I know look good on me, a shed-load of make-up, some loud, happy music and I smile. Because if you walk around wailing that you’re tired, you will indeed feel and look tired. If, however, you act like you’re fine, then you start to believe you’re fine too. Positive mental attitude, and all that. I’m not saying there aren’t days when I don’t feel knackered. Of course there are. It’s horrible when you can’t sleep and I know it affects my emotions, my co-ordination, my patience. I just don’t dwell negatively on my lack of sleep or feel sorry for myself. I don’t usually bother telling people when I haven’t slept, as it just brings it to the forefront of my mind again. However, if they ask and I tell them it’s especially bad right now, they often say, “well, you don’t look tired”. A part of me is bloody knackered. A part of me is walking around in a daze. But I’m keeping that little voice inside its box and am refusing to listen to it.
- When I can’t sleep, I get out of bed and do something else
I used to lie in bed clock-watching and calculating how much sleep I would get if I fell asleep at that moment, wondering how I would possibly get through the day on that pathetic amount of sleep. It’s not good for you and it’s never going to help you to get to sleep.Now, if I’ve been awake for more than 45 minutes, I get up and do something else. I’ve been known to bake a cake at 3am or to get on with writing an article. Quite often, after an hour of doing something, I go back to bed and I fall asleep. When I’m pregnant, I get especially bad insomnia, which is pretty rubbish, because growing a baby is hard work and you need your sleep. However, I have some beautiful memories of watching chick-flicks in the darkness of the middle of the night, just me and my little baby wriggling around in my belly. The two of us bonding while everyone else was deep in slumber. It felt really special.I’ve even got my yoga mat out and practiced in the semi-darkness at some strange hour of the night. Which brings me to my next point…
- Yoga breathing
There are certain yoga poses and breathing techniques that really help aid sleep, and as a yoga teacher myself, I am so grateful to have these techniques to draw on. Legs up against the wall, or viparita karani, while focussing on the breath, is a good one. Nadi Shodhana, alternate nostril breathing, also helps. The one I like most though is a simple technique where you count backwards while focussing on the breath. So, you start at 100 and each inhale or exhale is a new number. Inhale 100, exhale 99, inhale 98, exhale 97 and so on. When you get to 70, each inhale and exhale is one count, so inhale exhale 70, inhale exhale 69 and so on. I guess it’s a bit like the classic technique of counting sheep, but because you are counting backwards, your mind is less likely to wander. I teach this in my yoga classes, starting from 50, and so many people fall asleep before they’re half way through. It’s definitely one that works for me.
Do you get insomnia? Do you have any techniques that work for you? You can tweet me on @cardiffmummy or join in the chat on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page