It’s enough to make you wonder whether your brain is playing tricks on you. When you’re on holiday and the alarm clock is just a distant memory, you sleep like a baby. But once you’re back home, precious minutes of sleep inexorably trickle away while your eyes stay stubbornly open, staring at the ceiling. What can you do to help you drop off? What can you do when you’re suffering from insomnia? Here are some tips and tricks for insomniacs at the end of their tether!
“The hours of sleep before midnight count double”, “you can make up for lost sleep” and “staying in bed is the best way to tackle insomnia”. It’s amazing how many urban legends exist about something where, to all intents and purposes, nothing is happening.
People tick very different boxes when it comes to sleep, ranging from sleep-addicted hypersomniacs, people who get by with just a few hours’ sleep, the average sleeper who likes a good night’s sleep but doesn’t obsess about it to those who prefer short nights and long afternoon naps. Everyone is different.
While we all have our own particular relationship to sleep, there are some good habits that can help everyone drop off to sleep:
- Avoid stimulants after 3 pm: what we’re talking about here are dietary stimulants. So, to give yourself every chance, forget coffee, cola, tea and vitamin C in all forms after 3 pm. It might seem a long time before you’ll start thinking of going to bed but these are all substances that can wake you up in the night.
- Do physical exercise during the day: anima sana in corpore sano. Latin, obviously. You don’t have to don a toga but regular physical exercise has a direct impact on sleep quality. And many other things as well. So don’t give up, stick to your goals.
- Have a light dinner at least two hours before going to bed: you had your last coffee at 3 pm, went for a short run at around 5.30 pm, it’s now 8.30 pm, you’re starving and you come off the rails – a huge oily, fatty dinner. Pity because with a few potatoes, some rice or pasta you’d have been set up for a good night’s sleep.
- Go to bed at the same time as much as possible: yes, some people might call that routine. But don’t throw everything out with the bathwater, especially not the baby. The body functions more than we realise on habit when it comes to things such as appetite and digestion; sleep is no exception to the rule. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day stabilises the inner clock and makes for better deep sleep, which is the holy grail of sleep. Deep sleep is where you recharge your batteries, to borrow a mechanical expression. For this routine to work, it has to be followed at the weekend too. We didn’t say that getting a good night’s sleep would be easy!
- Avoid cigarettes and alcohol in the evening. That doesn’t mean that you should have more of them during the day! Nicotine is a stimulant that delays the onset of sleep and causes you to wake up at night. And while it might appear that alcohol helps you drop off to sleep initially, it then disturbs your sleep with diuretic effects and causes sleep apnoea.
Falling asleep even when the sandman is trying to stop you
The clock is ticking and you’re still staring at the ceiling. Next to you, the snoring’s been going on for a while, and counting the hours left before the alarm goes off is not helping you to relax. You might well have read a chapter of Ulysses, known to be better than a sleeping pill for sending you to sleep, and refused an invitation to the prohibited restaurant/drink/cigarette combination, but nothing’s working.
Don’t panic, here is a survival guide to follow when you feel you’ve exhausted all the possibilities:
- Make a list: is your head spinning with all the things that you mustn’t forget to do tomorrow? Keeping a notebook on your bedside table and jotting them down when you think of them will reassure you that you’ll remember them when you wake up, and that’s already a giant step towards sleep.
- Get out of bed: while you’re irritated with your tossing and turning, struggling to find the ideal sleeping position and your alarm clock is sniggering at you, the slumber train has left without you. Don’t panic, it’ll come back. And rather than waiting on the platform, get up and try to calm yourself down with a book and a glass of water.
- Listen: for some people, noise is the enemy. A watch ticking, traffic noise or a fridge humming can become something your attention gets stuck on and it’s difficult to shake off. Exhale, inhale and focus on something else, starting with your breathing. Concentrate on following your breath through your stomach and torso up to your nostrils. The noise will disappear.
ASMR, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, could be a way of blocking out noise by listening to the noise of water, whispering and other murmurs aimed at helping you relax and drop off to sleep. Try it out during the day first because it has the opposite effect on some people. YouTube, Spotify and Deezer have lots of ASMR compilations. You’ll easily find one that you like