From Sleepless to Snoozin’
When I first moved to DC, I struggled with insomnia like never before.
I would lay in bed for hours, tossing and turning and getting even more stressed out when I thought about how many hours of sleep I was losing. I felt like I tried everything – I cut out caffeine, worked out in the mornings, prayed endless rosaries – and just got less and less sleep, and more and more frustrated.
Apparently, I’m not alone. Especially since COVID hit, more people than ever have been struggling with getting good sleep. Thankfully, I’m sleeping SO much better now – thanks to a ton of brilliant advice and encouragement from people who have (sleep)walked this path before me. So here’s a gathering of all the info I’ve collected over the past year or so!
1. Release your expectations
I used to get so stressed out when I felt like I was losing sleep – like it was my fault and I was going to pay for it on the other end. It wasn’t until I read a chapter of the distressingly-titled but incredibly helpful book, “Full Catastrophe Living,” that my perspective finally shifted. The author, Jon Kabat-Zinn, wrote that when our bodies don’t fall asleep, we can take that as a message to ourselves (from ourselves) that we don’t need the sleep. So, if you’re lying in bed for hours getting impatient because you’re not asleep yet, fret not!
This mindset shift helped tremendously. I found myself getting out of bed after hours of tossing and turning, and picking up a book, folding laundry, or cleaning my room. Some nights, I’d open my laptop and watch a movie. When I accepted that I couldn’t “make” myself fall sleep, I experienced peace and was able to calm down enough to eventually experience tired-ness and drift off.
2. Invest in the right tools
During my months of insomnia, I bought anything and everything that could possibly help. I purchased a nighttime reading light (highly recommend, still use daily), a sound machine (don’t use as much now, but was helpful when I had noisy neighbors), and earplugs (the best). Being prepared with the right supplies helps me face sleepless nights with readiness.
3. Even 10 minutes of intense exercise makes a difference
I learned that I would fall asleep much more quickly when I spent even 10 minutes exercising intensely during the day. If you’re struggling with sleep, try moving your body – jumping jacks, burpees, even a short run. But beware! Don’t do this too close to bed or you could just amp yourself right back up.
4. Shut down the screens
One of the first things to go were my screens. I tried (and still try) to shut off my phone and computer at least an hour before I’m hoping to be asleep. That frees me up to pray, read, and journal (which often lulls me to sleep). This is why the warm reading light helps too! All the light can confuse us and keep us up longer than we intend.
5. The “helpers”
I had a nice brush with Nyquil in college that left me a bit dependent for a few months, and I don’t like the way I feel in the mornings after taking melatonin, so I try my best to stay away from sleep aids. However, if I have a few nights in a row with trouble falling asleep and the ideas above don’t help, I’ll take half a dose of melatonin (1.5 mg) two hours before bed, and that tends to leave me feeling okay the next morning. Melatonin can be super helpful, but everyone reacts differently! Test around to see what works for you.
So there you have it – five tips to help you overcome insomnia. If you’re struggling right now, you’re not alone! Developing good sleep hygiene is a process and looks different for everyone. Let me know what’s working for you in the comments below!
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Jane Kennedy lives in Washington, DC. She is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and works in criminal justice reform. When she’s not working or writing, she’s probably catching up with friends on FaceTime, getting lost in Rock Creek Park, quoting C.S. Lewis, or trying to recreate Salt and Straw ice cream at home.