Over the years I have battled insomnia many times. I’ve had my share of sleepless nights. I’ve also battled with delayed onset insomnia, which is when you fall asleep for a few hours, then wake up only to find you can’t fall back to sleep. It sucks, and it’s not normal.
Much has been written about how to defeat insomnia. Most of it is a bunch of bunk though. Being addicted to caffeine, I have tried stopping with the coffee to no avail. I know this isn’t what is causing me to stay up because I have fallen asleep many times high on caffeine. I have tried drinking milk or having a calming tea with some herbs designed to make you fall asleep as well. None of this stuff worked.
What has worked for me is to attack the root cause of insomnia, and then take action to ensure it’s worked. The root cause of insomnia is having unresolved issues floating around in your mind.
When you have things going on in your life that are unresolved from the day, what happens is that when you sit down to go to sleep at night, you’re finally free from distraction. Your mind starts firing up and going crazy. In response to this, your body starts getting stressed and that stress keeps you from falling asleep.
The reason that people have such a hard time with insomnia is because it’s really difficult to look in the mirror and address unresolved issues.
Work on unresolved issues
This is the hardest part of treating insomnia, but if done, will alleviate 90% of your problems. The way to do this is take out a notebook and write down what you are thinking about that is keeping you up. What is pissing you off the most in life? What do you need to do that you are fearing doing? Is your gut telling you something important?
I’ll give you an example, my girlfriend broke up with me one time and I couldn’t sleep. It was the usual stuff you are thinking about, but in not too long of a time, I started to sleep again. The reason for this was that I addressed the issue at hand. I didn’t just sit around night after night driving myself crazy thinking about it, I got to work.
Unfortunately the issues that are floating around in your head may have to wait til morning to be resolved, so you may lose at least one night of sleep.
If your issues are above and beyond my help, it may take a long time before they are resolved. If you are having serious problems with this perhaps you should seek some help. However, sometimes the issues keeping us up at night are merely that we wasted a day, and we have to be more self disciplined. This has happened to me multiple times.
This is the most important step of the process so make sure you are working on it.
Putting in a day’s work
How many times have you fallen asleep after coming home from your shift at work? I used to get done my shift, and immediately head over to my bed and fall asleep for about an hour. I had to really concentrate to stop myself from doing this as I was always tired after work. The same thing would happen when I started a new semester at college. I would get home from doing work all day and sometimes just zonk out in a chair.
We can use this to our advantage in a few ways. First, if you are an entrepreneur like me, what happens if you don’t put in a day’s work? Nothing. We have to hold our own feet to the fire in order to get stuff done, and sometimes we fall short. One way to ensure falling asleep is to use your creative energy during the day by building your business one step at a time.
My business is writing. For me, writing takes a lot of energy to get my thoughts on paper. Every time I go to make new content, I have to fire up the old creativity engine in my brain and use some gas to get it to come to life. At the end of the day, this tires me the hell out. The more creativity I use, the more tuckered out I’ll be at night when I go to put my head down.
When I was working my 9-5 job, I would still find that my mind would be racing at night because I would slack in doing creative pursuits. So the key is that you do some creative work a couple hours before bedtime in order to drain yourself of energy. I find writing to be the easiest thing to do, but any kind of artistic endeavor will work.
Have you ever had a really big meal and fall asleep on the couch after eating it? I know I have many times. Think back to every Thanksgiving you have been to. That post-meal feeling of sleepiness just comes over you on the couch. That’s the feeling we want to have before bed.
The best food I have found for this is oatmeal. Every time I make oatmeal, I feel tired after eating it and could take a nap. I actually haven’t discovered this until recently and it’s working wonders for me.
About an hour before bed, make a batch of oatmeal for yourself. After eating it, you should start feeling drowsy within a few minutes.
Back when I was going into the office every day, I used this technique to great effect. I was having serious issues with sleeping because I hated the commute to my office. I would sit in traffic for an hour and would have to rush to be on time. I would dread this.
I started reading Stephen King books an hour before I went to bed, and was amazed at how effective it was.
Usually, before going to bed people are just finishing browsing their computer, looking at their phones, or turning off the television. The blue lights and dopamine hits keep our brains fired up, and unable to wind down.
Taking out a book and reading allows our brain to readjust to reality. At the same time, reading tires our brains out from analyzing words written on paper.
This goes hand and hand with eating something because while you are waiting for the drowsy feelings to set in from your food, you can pull out your book and start reading.
Reading to go to sleep works much better if you are doing it in low light with a real book. This makes the transition to darkness easier and gets you away from the blue light of tablets.
It’s also best to be reading fiction stories, or anything that you don’t mind putting down. Obviously the point here is to go to sleep, so if you can’t put the book down because it’s really interesting information or a real “page turner” then it’s counter productive. I always liked books by Stephen King because they were silly books that I could start reading at any time and pick up the story.
Block all information from your senses
I learned this trick living with my roommate. Our house had thin ceilings and floors, and he lived right above me. Any time he would walk around, it would wake me up. One day I decided to put in ear plugs, and I had an uninterrupted night of sleep.
Besides being uninterrupted, I also found that using ear plugs gave me a much better quality of sleep. I woke up feeling refreshed.
I’m not a scientist, but my theory on why ear plugs work so well is that it limits the amount of information your brain is processing. I believe that the more you cut off your senses, not only will you be able to get to sleep and stay asleep without distraction, but you’ll also go into a deeper sleep.
Being a night owl, I often times have to sleep during day hours. Blocking light is one of the most critical things to do when trying to sleep. I feel I can speak from experience that letting light in while sleeping causes a lighter sleep. I would often wake up from sleeping 10 hours and be groggy for the rest of the day.
To test this, I slept in my friend’s basement room with no windows or light coming in. It was some of the best sleep I have ever had. My body had no idea what time it was and I went out like a light. If you are unconvinced, try sleeping somewhere where there is absolutely no light whatsoever.
The ultimate in deep sleep of course would be to block out all noise and light.
Practice your breathing
In the past I have written about how Meditation has helped me to stop panic attacks. It has also helped me to settle down and get to sleep. Doing a full meditation session before bed will do wonders for your sleeping because it clears the head and gets your body to settle down.
However, sometimes we don’t have the time or the inclination to do a full meditation session. In this case, the next best thing is doing breathing techniques while lying down trying to go to bed.
When lying down, inhale through your nose into your belly. Try to breathe in slow and steady.
Exhale from your mouth slowly, and upon exhaling, try to release all the tension in every muscle of your body to create a super relaxed state.
Think about dream like stuff
This one may be a bit out there, but I have used this technique to transition into a sleep state a number of times. What I like to do is start thinking about stuff that I could only do in a dream. Stuff like flying or jumping from building to building in the city.
I do this for two reasons. First, it helps me keep my mind off stuff that may be in the back of my mind that is keeping me up. Second, I have noticed that I was doing this naturally when I was about to fall asleep. I would find myself in a state that was right before nodding off in which my thoughts would shift to fantastical things. I started to notice this shift and it would actually wake me up because I was excited at the prospect of actually getting to sleep soon.
Give it a try and see how it works. Let me know what you think.
Mid night reset
I have woken up in the middle of the night so many times. It really stinks because for once you actually get to sleep fine, but then wake up and can’t get back to sleep. You’ll sit there tossing and turning even more mad because you had sleep within your grasp and you lost it.
If you have woken up in the middle of the night and it’s been 45 minutes, get up and get a water. What this does for me sometimes is it will reset my head so that when I get back in bed, I’m able to crash.
All these techniques have worked for me on a limited basis, but they aren’t 100% effective. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and get up.
I have stayed in bed some nights staring up at my ceiling playing the game of how many hours of sleep I’ll have if I go to sleep right now. I’ll keep sitting there and I never end up falling asleep. At some point sitting in bed trying to go to sleep has diminishing returns and you should consider just getting up and getting an early start on the day.
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