Overcoming Insomnia in Times of Stress

Insomnia may be a familiar battle for some, and for others, it may be an unwelcome response to the stress of our times. Lying in a bed, awake and unable to sleep, feels like one more thing that we cannot control. While aggravating in the moment, a pervasive lack of sleep can lead to issues beyond just sleepiness and a lack of energy, a foggy brain, an inability to cope with stress effectively. Ongoing sleep deprivation can also lead to lowered immunity, depression, weight gain, high blood pressure, and an increased risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke and diabetes. Yikes!

In any difficult time, if we take control over what we can control, we feel better. So, let’s take back some control and get back to sleeping.

Try one or more or the following suggestions, as you feel you can handle. The point is not to stress out or become overwhelmed with the options. They are options, so that you can find something that works for you.Work with them at your own comfort level, and your own pace.

1. Turn off the television and the computer at least 1 hour before bed. (Honestly, setting time limits throughout the day is probably a good idea right now.) No matter what the situation is, staring into these light sources will stimulate your brain and trick it into believing that it’s daylight, and time to be awake. And reading / watching more stories about the pandemic is adding nothing to your life but stress, anyway. I mean really….does it help you to relax? Does it help you to feel secure? I don’t think so. Now is the time to turn your attention away from the media, turn the lights down, and spend little time on self care. Remember when you used to dim the lights while getting the kids ready for bed?

2. Get to bed so that you can fall asleep by 10:00 pm. Our natural biorhythms want to fall asleep before 10:00, because it is the “heaviest” part of the day. You will be more likely to sleep if you adjust your schedule to take advantage of this fact. Night owl? Need the time to get things done?  Slowly move your bedtime back in increments of 10-15 minutes until you’re there. Maybe it will take a few weeks. Eventually, you will gain your time back in the early morning, and/or by being more productive with a mind that’s clear and efficient.

3. Take a hot shower before bed. That in itself will help, especially if you keep the lights low, and maybe play some relaxing music. If you’re game, you could dry off and then massage your feet with warmed sunflower, coconut or even olive oil, and them put on an old pair of socks. You could even add a few drops of rose or lavender essential oil if you have it. The warm shower will make you drowsy, because your body temperature will drop from it. Did you know that you have more nerves in the bottoms of your feet than anywhere else on your body? A foot massage is like a whole body massage!

4. Drink warm milk a half hour before bed. It’s not actually an old wive’s tale! If you can easily get whole fat milk, take ¾ c milk (preferably organic) with a little nutmeg and cardamom. Bring to a boil, let it cool slightly, and skim off the top. It may take a night or two to get used to it, but it will become a treat. Drink it after your hot shower. The heaviness will help to ground you without requiring a lot of digestion, and it will make you sleepy.

5. If you have any aromatherapy oils in the house particularly rose or lavender, use them! Put a few drops of oil in a saucer or warm water at the bedside.

6. Learn to do long, deep breathing or alternate nostril breathing. Particularly beneficial to do before bed, but also to incorporate throughout the day. Most people, when stressed, breath with a shallow breath. Focusing on deep breathing will not only relax you and bring much-needed oxygen throughout your body, but it will also release tension, allowing you to relax and stay asleep. You can do it just as you get into bed, but it’s also helpful to do do throughout the day, to keep anxiety and stress down.

Adjust your food intake.

I know that some of these ideas may cause some defenses to come up, especially under time of quarantine and self isolation, which is what I left them to the end. “I can’t do that!” “Why would you suggest stopping that?” I have to have fun!”

However…you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t having an issue, and these are tried and true remedies. Maybe start with one, not all at once. You can do it. we’re already doing extraordinary things.

1.  Reduce and/or eliminate caffeine from your diet. Watch out for sneaky sources, outside of your regular cups o’ joe: soda, tea, hot chocolate…even plain old chocolate. You may think that you need these to keep your energy up during the day if you are not sleeping, and maybe you’re just indulging because you’re out of your routine and seeking comfort. But, caffeine isn’t a “real” source of energy. It will actually rob your energy reserves and create a vicious cycle of fatigue for you.

2. Eating too close to bedtime. It’s best not to eat within several hours of bedtime – your body will be focused on digestion, rather than sleep. I know…we’re stuck at home and bored, but those late night snacks aren’t doing us any favors.

3. Alcohol. It doesn’t help anyone’s sleep, but it is particularly detrimental to those who have difficulty waking up in the middle of the night. There’s a long explanation regarding alcohol being a heating substance, and affecting our natural biorhythms – causing us to wake up at the “lightest” point in the circadian rhythm – between 2:00-5:00 am. But, that’s the quick overview.

4. Reduce or eliminate nighshades and certain, pungent foods and spices. Think, eggplant, peppers (of all kinds), tomatoes (especially tomato paste and tomato sauce) and potatoes, onions, garlic, red and black pepper, ginger. They create a reaction in your body that, if you are susceptible, will cause those early morning awakenings. I know, these are also easy-to-get staples. If you are walking up in the middle of the night, maybe try not to make them the biggest apart of your email, and/or switch to eating them at lunch rather than dinner.

Try these tips to see if you can get some more zzzz’s – your physical and mental health will thank you! : )