By Dr Olga Filippa Nel
Clinical Psychologist and Mindful Lifestyle Coach
We hear so much about the importance of getting enough good-quality sleep and how suffering from insomnia can become a great cause of stress. Although the effects of lack of sleep are well documented, it is difficult for someone for whom falling asleep and sleeping through the night comes easily, to understand what it is like for those who are not likewise blessed.
To give you an idea, this is what a few entries in the diary of an insomniac would look like.
Sunday, 11:00 pm
I finally climb into bed, exhausted after getting ready for a busy day tomorrow. I felt like I was starting to doze off in front of the television, so I was pretty sure that I would be out like a light. No such luck. I cannot get comfortable. I listen to my husband snoring gently and the dogs too. How do they do it? I am really jealous of both my husband and dogs right now. I toss and turn a few times. No sleep. I practice some deep breathing, I count backwards and forwards from 500, even do it in various times tables. Still no joy. I am tempted to pick up the phone and start mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Facebook, but I know that the blue light is a big “no no”. I look at the time, instead. Huge mistake! It is already 12:58, and now I am also angry at myself!
Monday 3:12 am
Oh no! Here I go again. Wide awake but far too tired and cold to get up and be productive. Dogs and husband are still fast asleep. I toss and turn again hoping for that elusive sleep to come back. Nothing! The more I try to fall asleep, the more wide-awake I feel. I finally decide this may be a good time for some meditation. In no time at all, my mind is filled with all the various scenarios that have been stressing me out. I rehearse a difficult conversation I need to have with someone at least 50 times. I memorise it. I am still awake. And emotional. The first birds start to sing. I am sure they got some sleep!
Monday 4.30 am
I get up. I bet those 5:00 am clubbers have no idea what it is like to feel like you have cotton wool in your head, your body weighing a tonne and your eyes burning. Every morning! Not even the dogs are keen to join me yet! I should be doing some yoga or going for a run, but I am too tired, so I aimlessly mill around the kitchen making myself the first cup of coffee. The first of many today.
As you probably know, insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep or remaining asleep. According to the World Health Organization, insomnia can be recurrent or episodic. It is frequently caused by factors such as stress, worry, relationship challenges, lifestyle, big changes or traumatic events. At times, however, there are no apparent causes.
When you suffer from insomnia, you may not feel rested or refreshed when you wake up. Daytime fatigue is also another consequence, which can affect social, occupational, concentration, productivity, and other important areas of functioning.
If the insomnia diary resonates with you, here are a few tips on how to improve your chances of beating sleeplessness.
We are all unique, so it is wise to experiment and find out what works best for you. Include at least thirty minutes of exercise in your day and avoid naps. Establish a sleep-promoting bedtime routine and stick to it, because routines can reset your body clock and get you back on track. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, no matter what. Stay away from electronic devices and lay off alcohol, sugar and caffeine for a few hours before bedtime. Relaxation exercises, yoga or mindfulness have also been shown to promote improved sleep.
Make your bedroom sleep friendly. Darkness can reset circadian rhythms, which are frequently thrown out by insomnia, so make sure the curtains block out all light and that the room is cool and quiet. If you cannot fall asleep within half an hour, get up and do something calming, like reading a book, journaling, writing down what is on your mind or having a cup of hot camomile tea.
Tempting as it might be, sleep medication is only a short-term fix for severe sleep problems and not always effective or safe. Rather try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia (CBT-i) with a Clinical Psychologist. CBT-i does more than merely relieving symptoms, it addresses the causes of insomnia, by changing sleep behaviours and challenging sleep beliefs, for example negative self-talk about sleep or sleep-related fears. Taking B vitamins can also improve your chances of a good night sleep, by regulating the level of the amino acid tryptophan in the body, you can also try supplements, like Melatonin.
Remember, you are not alone, sleep problems are quite common but there is help out there. Do not let insomnia get the better of you, reach out.
Live mindfully and blossom!