I reach out to the bedside table and feel around for my smartphone. I have it on the lowest light setting because I’m aware that blue light on any computer screen can disturb sleep rhythms. I confess that I don’t always remember putting my phone on Airplane mode to cut the EMF (electric & magnetic fields) radiation.
I recognize that just having the phone in my bedroom is not recommended and contributes to sleep disruption. Reading reports that more and more people are becoming trapped in a phone-addiction state, I’m beginning to wonder if I might be one of them. Ouch.
It’s now 3 am. Then 3:30. Then closing on 4 am. I’m still wide awake with scattered thoughts flying around like autumn leaves in the wind. At this point, I will typically tiptoe to the guest bedroom and settle into reading, writing, or listening to some soft ambient music.
According to the American Sleep Association, insomnia is the most common specific sleep disorder, with short-term issues reported by about 30% of adults and chronic insomnia by 10%. This condition affects 50 to 70 million Americans of all ages.
My mother was a chronic insomniac for at least the last ten years of her life. She would describe her very worst kind of night as waking up one hour after dozing off and not genuinely relaxing into complete rest until 6 or 7 am. Then it was time to get up! Many experienced insomniacs are all too familiar with similar lengthy and lonely nights.
The Sleep Foundation states that most diagnoses fall into two categories:
- Sleep-onset insomnia refers to difficulty falling asleep. It may occur with people who have a problem relaxing in bed and others whose circadian rhythm is not in sync due to factors like jet-lag or irregular work schedules. Our circadian rhythm is the natural cycle of physical, mental, and behavioral changes that the body goes through in a 24-hour cycle.
- Sleep maintenance insomnia refers to difficulty staying asleep after initially nodding off. This type of insomnia is common in elderly sleepers and people who consume alcohol, caffeine, sugar, or tobacco before bed. Certain disorders like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome can also cause sleep maintenance insomnia.
One of the most common themes with disturbed sleep is that of being over-stimulated. Hyperarousal can be mental, physical, chemical, environmental, or a combination.
- I have a friend who watches the 11 pm news on TV, in bed before turning off her light, then wonders why sleep evades her.
- I’m sure many of us have tossed and turned while mentally repeating a stressful interaction or communication with another. Or have struggled with the inner status quo due to a critical decision coming up.
- Hormonal shifts and changes can undoubtedly lead to intensely interrupted nights. And don’t even get me started on the bladder, which for varied reasons, insists we get up to pee more often than we want.
- Any chemical imbalance in the brain from depression or psychological issues can muddle peaceful sleep. Likewise, any medical condition causing pain may be firing the nerves that make sleep impossible and makes the sufferer feel like they are going insane.
If we listed all of the personal reasons why we cannot get to sleep or stay asleep, it could stretch a mile down the road and back again.
To assist with relaxation, the following suggestions have helped me personally. I prefer all-natural with no side-effects.
- Your body temperature drops in preparation for bedtime, your heart rate slows, and your brain waves get slower. Why would you want to reverse such a natural process? Encourage softer sounds and lighting, or silence and complete darkness in your environment. Think of what went well that day rather than rehashing stressors. Stick to physical cleansing rituals – a warm bath, perhaps. These healthy habits entrain your body to wind down appropriately at your appointed time. Use any practice that encourages slowing down and relaxing into the moment.
- Progressive muscle relaxation. As you lie in bed, beginning at your feet and working your way up to your head, one by one – try to tense – your feet, calves, thighs, buttocks, stomach, chest, throat, hands, arms, jaw, and eyes. As you experience a good tightening of your feet, quickly release the tension and then breathe into that part of your body. Letting go and relaxing each body part in response to your command gives the mind something constructive to do, thereby offering assistance rather than resistance to your body. Parents can guide children in this exercise.
- A growing body of research suggests that the foods we eat can affect how well we sleep. Prunes, kiwi fruit, fatty fish, nuts like walnuts & almonds, and tart cherries (or tart cherry juice) can offer healthy vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and zinc concentrations. These are involved in regulating melatonin and serotonin hormones, regulating circadian rhythm, and promoting healthy sleep.
- Essential oils like lavender and roman chamomile, ylang-ylang, orange, lemon, and sandalwood can be effective sleep inducers. Children will often be very receptive to scents. Place one or two drops on a pillow or stuffed animal. Add 1 to 3 drops to a one-ounce spray bottle with water and mist the air. Add 4 to 5 drops in bathwater. Dilute with some oil and massage into the back of the legs, arms, the back of the neck, and/or soles of the feet.
This is a vast subject, and I have barely scratched the surface. For more comprehensive knowledge and understanding of how this condition affects you personally check out https://www.sleepassociation.org
Good Night and Sleep Tight!
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are my own views, for the reader’s information and education only. This does not constitute legal, medical, or psychological advice. Where individuals have been named, I have had their express permission to quote them here, or I have changed names, gender, and circumstances to protect all individuals’ privacy completely.