Insomnia is defined as having persistent difficulty in either falling or staying asleep. For anyone that has experienced insomnia, it can often feel like an endless cycle of frustration, fatigue, and hopelessness. Many feel as though they are battling with their racing mind, because even if they are physically exhausted, it may be difficult to quiet their mind and allow themselves to welcome sleep. While there is no cure for insomnia, there are many techniques that can help you manage insomnia and hopefully improve your overall sleep hygiene.
Here are 5 practical techniques to manage insomnia, that you can implement on your own at home:
- Aim for consistent bedtime and wake -up times. The body’s circadian rhythm plays an integral role in regulating the sleep cycle. Sticking to a regular bedtime and wake-up schedule allows the body’s biological clock to find its natural rhythm. It’s helpful to conceptualize the body’s need for a consistent sleep schedule similar to how the body thrives on consistent nutrition and exercise. If you are unable to commit to an exact bedtime and wake-up time, try to stay within a specific and intentional time frame (i.e. bedtime between 10:30-10:45 pm and wake-up between 7:00-7:15 am). Of course, life circumstances do not always allow us to get into bed or wake-up at the exact same time each day, but we can prioritize increasing consistency for our bedtime and wake-up routine.
- Limit the time spent “tossing and turning” and feeling frustrated in bed. We’ve all been there before… you climb into bed feeling physically exhausted, and minutes later you end up lying there with racing thoughts, feeling fidgety and restless. If you find that you get into bed and are experiencing restlessness (i.e. the “tossing and turning” feeling) for more than 5-7 minutes, climb out of bed and leave your bedroom entirely. Go into another room and either read or listen to music until you feel your eyes (and body) begin to tire again. Sometimes this will take 5 minutes…sometimes it’ll take 20 minutes or more, that is okay! The key here is getting out of bed so that you do not associate your bed or bedroom with an anxiety state. Although it may feel rough to get out of bed and go into the other room, your body and mind will thank you later when you get back into bed in a more restful state!
- Create a calming and inviting sleep atmosphere. It is important that your bed and bedroom feel soothing, both for your body and for your mind. Think about what details would be calming and helpful for you… do you need to upgrade to new pillows or new bedding? Is the temperature comfortable to sleep in? (Cleveland Clinic recommends keeping your bedroom temperature between 60-67℉ to facilitate an optimal sleep environment: Cleveland Clinic article). Additionally, keeping your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible, is beneficial, too. Some may also find it helpful to fall asleep to calming music or a guided meditation.
- Create a to-do list/ ‘thought journal’. Prior to going to your bedroom, spend time reflecting in a ‘thought journal’ or reviewing your to-do list for the next day/remainder of week. This is especially helpful if you notice racing thoughts or elevated anxiety as you try to wind down and prepare for bed. It is important to do this in a separate area from your bed, so that you do not associate the anxiety state with your bedtime routine. The concept of the ‘thought journal’ is a simplified journaling activity. If the idea of journaling and reflecting feels too challenging or effortful to do before bed, you can jot down some of your thoughts/emotions more casually in a ‘thought journal’ format, instead. Some find it comforting to jot down 3 meaningful experiences from that current day.
- Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). PMR is a widely studied and practiced deep relaxation technique, used to assist individuals coping with anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other debilitating conditions, such as chronic pain. PMR is based in the idea that mental relaxation can stem from physical calmness. PMR is a technique that focuses on the body’s various muscle groups, and in tensing or tightening the individual muscle group, and then immediately relaxing that same area. To practice this technique, do so lying in bed. You can close yours eyes if this is comfortable for you. Start at your head and work down toward your feet, progressively. As you inhale, count up to 7-10 seconds, and simultaneously tighten your first muscle group (i.e. your shoulders), while inhaling. Hold this tension for a few seconds, then release and notice this muscle group relax and warm from the increased blood circulation. Now, move onto the second muscle group, such as your upper arms, and repeat the same tense/release format. Aim to tense/release about 5-7 different muscle groups in total (again, start at your head and work your way down to your feet). This technique distracts your mind from anxiety-based thoughts and allows your body to physically relax, one muscle group at a time. Ultimately, you will feel calmer and sleepier, and ready for your ZZZ’s…