Why Can’t I Sleep?
Why do so many people in our modern society, especially women, have problems falling asleep at night? I was once told by an anthropologist that communities that are "off grid", living with the land, who rise at dawn and retire at dusk, don't seem to have issues with insomnia and troubled sleep. Populations like these don't even have a word for insomnia.
As a hypnotherapist who's worked with thousands of clients, many of whom needed help getting better sleep, I can share my top tips...
First Things First...
Sometimes we don’t take care of the practical things that can improve our comfort to help us fall asleep. That's why the first thing I always recommend to my hypnotherapy clients is to take care of any environmental issue(s) before tackling anything else.
Address anything that could interfere with your sleep at home, or while traveling, the best you can. Get ear plugs if your partner snores. Wax earplugs may be the most comfortable for long term use. Make sure your partner getts checked out for sleep apnea. You must have a comfy bed and pillow and blackout curtains if you need them. Cooler temperatures are usually best for sleeping. Make sure your environment is extra cozy. Use aromatherapy, a sound machine, or a humidifier — do whatever you gotta do!
Another Must For Getting Better Sleep...
Most people with sleeping problems tend to have a lot on their minds. That are also usually exposed to way too many stimulants through the day and evening hours. This could be in the form of substances, media, or stress inducing activities. If this is the case for you, especially if you get a lot of screen time daily, you would benefit from a regular mediation and relaxation practice. We need to teach our brains and bodies to be okay with stillness, quiet, and even boredom.
We need to learn how to transition from being active and into calming down and resting. Before I lose anyone here who may get turned off by the idea of meditating, or has tried it and found it to be difficult... I've made two guided meditation recordings to help make it easy to implement everything I'm suggesting: Effortless Sleep and Time And A Place. See how you like them.
I also highly recommend Transcendental Meditation, which I've personally benefitted from. It's taught by a non profit organization that offers a sliding pay scale for learning it with a certified teacher. Transcendental Meditation doesn't focus on breathing or chanting, like other forms of meditation. Instead, it encourages a restful state of mind beyond thinking. A 2009 study found Transcendental Meditation helped alleviate stress in college students, while another found it helped reduce blood pressure, anxiety, depression and anger.
I can not emphasize enough how helpful it is to have a “thinking time” and a “thinking place” that has nothing to do with our bed or bedroom. Many people just go, go, go throughout the day and have poor organization and scheduling habits. This is in addition to not having enough time, or taking enough time, to rest and leave time for transitioning into different modes for your daily and nightly activities.
If you think of thoughts and emotions as a request, it would make sense that your mind would be trying to get your attention about to-do’s you haven't gotten done or scheduled, and any unresolved issues that have been stressing you out. When your mind is still, and it knows you have no other
distractions, it can seize the chance to remind you of the thoughts you’ve pushed away all day — or all year.
Even just a brief morning meditation to allow unresolved issues to come to mind to practice self awareness and serenity can help reduce and prevent stress. Having a “thinking time” and a “thinking place” or a planning time and place, like fifteen minutes in a den, study, or a coffee shop, and using a calendar to schedule your to-do’s, can all make a huge difference! At night time, keeping a notepad nearby, or using an app like Google Keep on your phone to immediately output the thoughts that come up, will greatly improve your ability to fall asleep easily.
It really helps your mind and body to wind down if it knows when that time is. There need to be distinct cues to encourage it now that we have artificial light. For instance, keeping a routine off turning down lights at least 30 minutes before you get into bed. Ideally, you'd want to use dimmer, warmer lights or even red lights two hours before you want to actually be asleep. You can also use apps on your media devices like F.lux on your desktop/laptop, and Twilight on your Android devices. These apps take out the blue light and warm up your displays as the sun sets. They help to mimic the way light naturally behaves. With the blue light removed or reduced, your displays will have an orange look, which invokes drowsiness. Sorry iOS users, there are no free apps currently for your devices that do this, however if you device is running on iOS 9.3 or later, you can enable Night Shift. There are a lot of different sleep apps you may want to take a look at.
Make The Transition A Treat For Yourself!
I have found that many of the clients that come to see me to improve their sleep are trying to cram too much in to every day. They are having problems giving themselves permission to rest or have some "me time” before falling asleep. Feeling stressed and unsatisfied isn't the best way to end your day.
Scheduling a bedtime with at least 15 - 30 minutes of a pleasant wind down experience to close out your day can made a world of difference. It will allow you to fall asleep faster, sleep more pleasantly, and have more productive energy the next day. Consistency is key! Your circadian rhythm likes a bedtime and wake-up routine to be at regular times.
Know What To Avoid...
Many people are using stimulants to stay awake during the day, which then bleed over into sleep time. In a healthy adult, the half-life of caffeine is around 5.7 hours , and caffeine can stay in one's system for up to 13 hours.
Working out and eating too late at night will cause problems as well. Depending on one's bedtime (and how well you metabolize caffeine), it's recommended to abstain from caffeine at least six hours before bed. Fasting and avoiding working out three hours before your bedtime are all also recommended.
Consider alternative products to use to avoid caffeine as well as natural sleep aids to take before bed:
- Natural Vitality Calm Sleep, Melatonin, Magnesium Citrate, GABA, & L-Theanine, Sleep Aid Drink Mix
- MUD\WTR :rise Original Blend uses premium mushrooms and mycelium rich in antioxidants like lion’s mane for focus, chaga and reishi to support a healthy immune system, cordyceps to promote natural energy, turmeric and cinnamon for an even bigger antioxidant punch, and cacao for mood and focus.
- MycoBotanicals® Stress Decompress Capsules uses mushrooms (like Reishi to support a calm mind and reduce stress and Lion’s Mane for a calm and balanced mood) and herbs (like Skullcap to promote mental relaxation, Lemon Balm for a peaceful emotional state and Ashwagandha to promote a healthy stress response) for well rounded daily supplement.
Deal With What's "Under The Hood"
(i.e. In Your Subconscious)...
Some people have had experiences, heard a story, or even seen a scary movie at one time in their life that may have led their minds to be more on guard. It can take a trauma clearing process to help reset the mind and adjust in a way that’s helpful as regards falling and staying asleep.
For instance, if a mother experienced a scare during the middle of the night when her child was young, or her child was in need of frequent attention or care for any reason, that pattern may stick long after the child has grown. She may turn out to be a light sleeper, wake up frequently, or have issues falling asleep easily — free from anxiety. Or, for example, if there was a break in, or a period of high stress with a period of insomnia, associations might have gotten stuck which can lead to an underlying anxiety.
Those need to be cleared and resolved. Reach out to me or another qualified professional if that’s the case for you. For instance, if you’ve been troubled by disturbing or repetitive dreams, use dream analysis services, which work to quickly identify, and give you an idea of how to resolve, issues that have been weighing on your subconscious mind.
You can always ask yourself questions to get to the bottom of this. Directing questions to any feelings of anxiety you're noticing in your body, things like:
✦ "What is making you (me) feel anxious right now?"
✦ "What are you afraid of?”
Listen for a response, as if you're having a conversation with a child. See if you can ask the feelings to give you a clear thought. Hopefully, you can find out information that can give you a course of action to take. Act on any actionable requests. When you are able to reassure yourself and clear your concerns, you allow uncomfortable feelings to release. You're able to guide them into a calmer state or a useful action.
Eight Quick Tips / Takeaways...
Remember to practice any of the following tips with a sense of trust, confidence, and ease. Do not apply them with stress or pressure. Know that you cannot consciously make yourself fall asleep. You can, however, peacefully encourage your mind and body, like you would coo a baby to sleep. Let go, and trust that you will fall asleep. Do this by recognizing the fact that your body knows how already. If it didn't, you'd be dead by now. You want to take the pressure off of your mind, just like a lover would not want to be rushed or pressured to perform. Just like you can practice good eating habits to make sure you don’t choke or rush your eating, but you don't know how to consciously digest your food on purpose. Make sure you know when to eat and eat comfortably — the same goes with falling asleep.
✦ Consider using a temporary sleep aid for a short period to break a poor cycle of sleep, and rebuild your trust that you can get a good night’s sleep and condition yourself to a new bedtime. Consult with your PCP about which is best to use temporarily for yourself.
✦ When you're falling asleep, think of your bed and your bedroom as a place that is an absolute gift. Make it a place of rest, comfort, and pleasure. Do whatever you can to make it inviting, relaxing, and peaceful. Do not let it become associated with work or stress!
✦ Notice how you are able to tell when you're drifting off. What happens just before you can tell sleep is minutes or moments away? Is it a feeling of your muscles releasing tension, feeling heavy or still? Is it when you forget what you were thinking and notice you're just aware but your mind suddenly feels more quiet and calm?
✦ Anchor the feelings. Remember these feelings on purpose the next time you're falling asleep. This is an anchoring technique. You will be revivifying the same brain patterns so they can be more easily induced.
✦ Purposely think in a slower, drowsier, softer voice, as if you hear yourself falling asleep, to get the process to happen more quickly. Like Ben Stein’s voice being turned down on a radio. You could also use something like the Calm app or a white noise/sound machine.
✦ Get regular exercise and be careful to not overindulge in sugary foods or caffeine especially within six hours of your bedtime.
✦ If you’ve been troubled by disturbing or repetitive dreams, use dream analysis services.