Using routines to combat sleeplessness
By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor
When you’re going to school and working it can often be hard to find time to rest your brain, and this is especially true if you’re an insomniac.
Insomnia is one of those words that gets tossed around a lot, but often times the people using it don’t actually know what it means. It is not the inability to sleep at night, but rather, the inability to fall asleep at all. If you can’t sleep at night, but have no problem sleeping in till noon the next day, you’re not an insomniac, you just need to reset your sleep pattern or be more aware of your diet pre-respite—fruit and protein will actually keep you awake, while carbs will make you tired, and caffeine must be avoided, obviously.
Insomnia is different for every sufferer, but some things are universal: Our brains have a hard time shutting off for extended periods of time. Falling asleep can be a battle tempered with the aid of various hormones like Melatonin, or sleep-aids—but the real battle is actually staying asleep. Many sufferers find it difficult to remain asleep, and will actually wake up mere hours after they’ve crossed that first hurdle of managing to fall asleep in the first place. This means incredibly late nights and very early mornings, which can lead to exhaustion.
As someone who has suffered from insomnia for years due to anxiety, I have found that developing a routine can be a game changer. What a routine does is it takes the focus off of the clock, and instead puts it on training your brain. As many fellow insomniacs know, stressing over time is almost a compulsion. You lay in bed counting the hours of rest you’ll have if you fall asleep right that second, watching the time dwindle until you realize that it’s time to get up and you’ve spent the entire night stressing over sleep. It’s a familiar story, but what can you do to avoid it?
First off, make the decision on whether or not to try prescription drugs. For me, I prefer to avoid them due to the added expense and some rather frightening experiences with over-the-counter sleep aids when I was a teenager. If you want to try and avoid them, then I advise taking low-dosage melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that signals your brain that it is time to sleep, as such it is not a sleep-aid per s, but more-so a natural remedy that helps until you’ve trained your brain to produce it at the correct time on its own.
But when’s the correct time, you may ask? Again, the focus here should not be on the clock, but rather the training aspect. This means that you need to develop a series of repetitive behaviors you can use as a trigger, so that your brain will know when it should settle down. What these behaviors are is completely up to you, but I advise trying to engage all your senses—touch, taste, smell, sight—and to repeat them without deviation. For me, I light a scented candle, drink a cup of hot chamomile tea, and watch a 10–20 minute “let’s play” video. I do this because I want to focus on things I find relaxing to combat my anxiety, but depending on your insomnia, your routine may vary. This is why it’s important to tailor the routine to you as an individual. I hate the cold, so I need to be in bed with my tea near scalding. However, you may find that suffocating, so your routine might involve opening a window. Develop your routine around your perfect sleep. Try to figure out what’s so different about the days you fall asleep easier, and try to replicate aspects of those days. If storms relax you, try adding rain sounds to your nightly routine. If you zone out when you read a book, try reading a few pages a night. The key is to avoid measuring time, and instead do things step by step.
If this works, and you manage to fall asleep but wake up a few hours later, repeat the process. This repetitive action will eventually train your brain to stay asleep for as long as it can. That may only grant you five or six hours, but hey, it’s better than the alternative.