So. The time is currently 3.17am. I went to bed at around 12am and woke up about 2am. For the last hour I’ve been lying in bed trying desperately to get back to sleep because I have a busy day tomorrow and I really don’t need this right now, brain!
A few years ago, a night like this one would have seen me staring at the ceiling for hours. I would entertain myself by replaying bad memories, overthinking about situations that hadn’t yet happened and contemplating whether my measly existence was worth anything in The Grand Scheme of Things.
Not being able to get to sleep, (or in my case not being able to stay asleep) can be incredibly taxing on your mental health. Lack of sleep can cause various physical and mental implications such as irritability, impaired cognitive function and fatigue, just to name a few. Also, it gives us way too much time to think – which can be dangerous if you suffer from a mood disorder.
If you suffer from depression or anxiety, you might find that sleep is a luxury you once took for granted. Research shows that the relationship between insomnia and depression/anxiety is bidirectional. Basically, insomnia can both cause and worsen anxious and depressive symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to get a good night’s rest!
My Insomnia Journey
Insomnia has been a pain in my ass ever since I was a teenager. It came only slightly before the depression, coupling up with it to create the ultimate Dream Team and proceeding to make my life a living hell.
Long periods of fragmented sleep and near constant exhaustion, combined with lonely nights in which my darkest thoughts were my only company, catapulted my depression into the dangerous territory of suicidal thoughts.
See, sleep is a beautiful thing. Even for the most troubled of minds, even if it’s only for what feels like a fleeting moment, sleep provides an escape. A state of blissful oblivion. What’s even better is that sometimes when you wake up, the sadness from the night before doesn’t seem so poignant.
“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”Joseph Cossman
Being denied sleep can mess with the mental health of a perfectly healthy brain. For me and my ‘broken’ brain, it led almost to insanity. I plummeted down rabbit holes of bad thoughts every single night, forcing myself to re-live every nightmare. I experienced derealisation, convinced that I didn’t exist in the wee hours of the morning. I cried a lot. I drank a lot. I took dangerous risks in my pursuit of sleep. And all because I was so desperate for an escape, so sick and tired of my conscious mind.
That was before. Nowadays I cope a lot better by refusing to let insomnia make me her bitch. Here are some tips to help you beat insomnia (or at the very least, stop you from ruminating in bed!) All of them having been tried and tested by me, of course! 😊
1 – Use lavender oil
The effect of lavender oil on insomnia and sleep quality has been extensively researched. It is widely recognised by professionals to reduce anxiety and stress, which may be why it’s such an excellent natural sleep remedy! I usually put a few drops of lavender oil on my pillow before bed, but you can also use a diffuser or dab a little bit on your temple before you settle for sleep.
2 – Sleep in a cool room (with a hot water bottle)
I came across this tip by accident, but now it’s my favourite way to sleep!
The optimum room temperature for sleep is 16-18°C (60-65°F). If you’re from the UK like me and air conditioners are an alien concept, crack open a window an inch to let the cool air in before bed. Then slide underneath your covers with a hot water bottle! I guarantee that even if this doesn’t help you to beat insomnia, it will at least leave you feeling as snug as a bug!
Controlling the temperature, lighting and noise in your bedroom is a must if you want to beat insomnia for good!
3 – Aid sleep with white noise, nature sounds or relaxing music
Many people swear by the sleep-inducing qualities of white noise, which masks background sound and has been scientifically proven to provoke, maintain and improve sleep.
While pure white noise doesn’t help me sleep (it just sounds like static to me), nature sounds like rainfall and thunder are my go-to for if I’m having trouble nodding off. If the real thing isn’t going on outside, both Spotify and Youtube have some really great playlists to aid relaxation and sleep.
This is a great quote about why the sound of rain soothes us to sleep:
“These slow, whooshing noises are the sounds of non-threats, which is why they work to calm people. It’s like [the rain is] saying: ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry.'”Orfeu Buxton
If neither white noise or rain are your thing, some calming music can also do the trick.
4 – Drink chamomile tea
Okay, so all the mental health gurus online swear up and down that chamomile tea can relax you to sleep. While I can’t give it the same glowing review, a cup of chamomile tea (or any hot drink) is a staple in my night-time regime. It helps to wind me down after a long day and is a simple bit of self-care that makes me happy.
5 – Ditch the phone and read a book
Reading a book before bed instead of scrolling through Instagram uses up the last of your mental energy in a relaxing, sleep-provoking way. The amount of times I’ve fallen asleep with my glasses still on my face and woken up to a crumpled book is indicative of how well this one works for me!
6 – Do something boring (but productive)
This is my most used trick for when I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. Rather than lie in bed and ruminate, I get up and do one of the tedious tasks on my to-do-list. Usually, it’s the washing up (which I find mind-numbingly sleep-inducing). Sometimes I organise files, do some ironing or even paint my toenails! It has to be something relatively boring but it helps if it’s also productive.
Oh, and stay away from the computer/phone screens! I know it’s tempting to just lie in bed on your phone, but radiation from phone screens delays and disturbs sleep.
7 – Journal your worries away
Yes, I know I’ve mentioned journaling 47298 times, but just hear me out.
Journaling for mental health is a positive coping mechanism that has been scientifically proven to reduce depression, anxiety and stress. If you think that your sleep problems have roots in any of these areas, journaling can be a highly effective way of clearing your mind from negative and anxious thoughts.
If there’s a specific stressful or anxious thought on your mind, writing it down can help to relieve the weight of it on your conscience. If you suffer from something like chronic depression, journaling can give you an outlet for the tornado of negative thoughts swirling through your brain. Try out these 60 journal prompts for depression, anxiety, self-love and self-discovery.
8 – Practise mindfulness
Practising mindfulness has numerous mental health benefits and is even used alongside CBT to treat depression and anxiety. It has been scientifically proven to encourage sleep and improve the quality of it too!
While you’re lying in bed, close your eyes and relax your muscles. Pay close attention to how your body reacts to the release of tension, trying to keep your mind focused on the present. Don’t try to force sleep as this will rebuild tension in your body, and don’t try to force away negative thoughts either!
Simply acknowledge your negative thoughts but, instead of dwelling on them, accept them without judgement and let them go, bringing your mind slowly back to the present.
Breathing exercises, body scanning and counting are all excellent mindful bedtime activities to help promote sleep.
So, the time is now 6.35am and I’ve managed to write a blog post instead of succumbing to a breakdown! Not bad if I say so myself! If you have any tips on how to beat insomnia, please leave them in the comments down below!