Insomnia sucks the joy from life. I should know – I’ve suffered from it for 21 years. I have tried everything – from white/pink/brown noise to boring bedtime stories; from aromatherapy to acupuncture; from herbal tinctures to homeopathy. In desperation I even had a stint on sleeping pills (which left me groggy during the day and wide awake at night). Yet recently I’ve started to get some decent slumber and it’s nothing to do with lavender bath oil or chamomile tea (lovely as they are). We’re all different but let me share the strategies which have made a real difference to me in the hopes that one or two might help.
Above all find out the root cause of your sleeplessness. In my case my stress hormone levels were so high that my body never felt safe enough to sink into the parasympathetic state of rest and repair. My functional medicine doctor prescribed deep abdominal breathing, a serious regular meditation habit (twice a day; not just the odd session here and there) and calming visualisations. Once it becomes a habit, you won’t look back. If you struggle with meditation, check out this post on various ways to meditate, or this one on Soul Sync, a practice that a lot of people find easier than standard meditation.
Over the last four months I’ve also been doing mindful movement and somatic grounding with Gillie Sutherland (think rolling around on the mat rather than strict linear yoga poses). A couple of evenings a week she does a very gentle wind-down class which soothes the nervous system and gets us ready for restful slumber – I often fall asleep on the mat.
Secondly check your circadian rhythm is on track. Our sleep patterns are ruled by an inner biological clock which is calibrated to light. As the sun sets, our brain triggers the release of melatonin, signalling it’s getting time for rest. Unfortunately artificial light (and particularly that from the blue light of phones and laptops) confuses our bodies so we just don’t have enough melatonin stored up to make us sleepy. I’ve found coming off all devices a couple of hours before bedtime really helps (I was always a bit cavalier about it before). Yet, apparently even a little light can cause problems and, while candlelight is lovely, it’s not always practical. I’ve also invested in a pair of anti-blue light glasses to pop on for a few hours each evening (cheap as chips and I find they make a difference).
Black-out curtains banish the glow from outside street lamps and, if I’m away from home, I wear an eye mask. Using bright light in the morning can also help to reset that biological clock. So I have a 20 minute blast of bright light from my Lumie bedside light when I wake up (with the added bonus that it helps to combat seasonal affective disorder).
I’m cautious about my diet too, steering clear of heavy, high-carb meals and not eating too late (it’s also not advisable to exercise too late in the evening). I’ve found that even a glass of wine can sabotage my slumber and I don’t drink any caffeine (including green tea) after midday.
Lots of people swear by a weighted blanket. It works by deep pressure stimulation (DPS) giving an even pressure on the body – think of it as swaddling for grown-ups. DPS has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and to encourage the production of serotonin and oxytocin, hormones that make us feel happy and secure. It brought back memories from childhood of being tucked firmly in with sheets, blankets and a quilt. If you aren’t keen on shelling out for a weighted blanket (they’re not cheap) maybe try the old-fashioned bed-making techniques and see if it works for you. To be honest, the weighted blanket didn’t do a lot for me – I found it almost claustrophobic – although I know a lot of people who swear by them.
I’d also tried CBD oil and paste without any success. Then one day I got talking to a guy who knows all about CBD and he said I simply wasn’t taking a high enough dose. I experimented with Endoca Raw Hemp Oil and eventually found that around four drops was enough to get me off to sleep. It’s not cheap – £120 for one or two months’ supply, depending on how many drops you need – but, to be honest, what price a good night’s sleep?
Okay so that’s a lot of strategies and hopefully most of you won’t need to go to such extremes. Do let me (and everyone else) know about anything else that really works for you.