If you can’t sleep, it is often difficult to tell what the exact root cause for your sleeplessness is. There are over a hundred of different sleep disorders of which insomnia is the most common one, followed by sleep apnea, often showing the symptom of loud snoring.
Whatever it is which is preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep, never take sleeping pills as your first option! Always consult your doctor or a sleep professional to explore the real cause of your inability to fall and stay asleep. In addition, you may try to improve your sleep naturally without turning to any harsh medications. In this article, I want to give you 4 simple and natural ways to overcome insomnia which will immediately put you back on track for good sleep.
1. Exercise for better sleep
Being active offers many health benefits, both physically and mentally. The fact that exercise helps you to maintain a healthy body and to lose weight are well known. But one other great benefit of regular exercise is that it boosts your energy levels during the day and lets you easily wind down in the evening. As a result, you are less sleepy during the day and manage better to fall and stay asleep at night.
It might well be that a new exercise routine makes you feel a little tired at first. Over time, you will see that a regular workout gives you more energy, reduces or even totally eliminates daytime fatigue and help you to fall asleep much faster. The reason for this is that the energy depletion occurring during exercise has a stimulating effect on recuperative processes during your sleep. For example, while you exercise your body temperature increases. Your body is now actively seeking ways to reduce it of which one is sleep.
Keep in mind that it is not primarily the intensity of your exercise which gives you all these sleep improving benefits, but rather the consistency. Also, you can be flexible with what kind of activity you choose. Either aerobic exercise alone or in combination with some resistance training – both ways offer equal sleep improving qualities and help you feel more energized during the day.
Why not starting today with some simple, no-equipment workout like push-ups or planks? In case you can and want to leave your house, go for a 20-minutes walk after dinner – you might see some immediate positive effects on your sleep.
2. Eliminate caffeine
The cup of coffee you have in the morning to get you going is probably not the one to blame, but any caffeine intake after lunch might have disturbing effects on your sleep quality. The reason is that caffeine has a half-time of five to six hours, meaning that after five to six hours you still have 50% of the caffeine in your system. In other words, if you drink a coffee let’s say at 4 pm in the afternoon, by 9 or 10 pm you are only half-way through with the elimination process.
Therefore, the timing when you consumed caffeine is the most crucial factor regarding the sleep-disruptive effect of caffeine. Many people just don’t know that it takes so long for your body to get rid of caffeine. They are looking into all sorts of different possible causes for their insomnia while the only culprit to blame might be the cup of coffee after dinner or the energy drink at the gym in the evening.
The way caffeine works in our body and why it actually prevents many of us from getting a good night’s sleep is a complex and fascinating process which is explained in more detail this blog article. There you will also learn why caffeine might be the very reason why you are feeling tired and moody during the daytime.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying you should stop drinking coffee. I love coffee too, and I also believe in its health benefits. However, if you want to improve your sleep, limit your coffee consumption to the mornings only. And keep in mind that caffeine is not just in coffee but can be in the cola or the tea you drink, and even some of the foods you eat such as chocolate, yogurt, and cereals.
3. Stop hitting the snooze button
I know, it’s all too tempting to hit the snooze when the alarm goes off in the morning. You want these extra few minutes so badly and try to convince yourself that it will give you more time to wake up, while actually, the exact opposite happens.
Think about it: A few minutes after you hit the snooze, when the alarm goes off again, you often feel more tired than before. Are you know hitting the snooze again although it is already quite obvious that the extra minutes didn’t help you at all? Even worse, you may keep on hitting the snooze button, again and again, leading to an endless cycle that leaves you being not only dead tired but also late.
But why is that? To explore this question, let’s look at the most ideal wake up scenario. The best thing for all of us would actually be not to use an alarm clock at all and to let our body wake up naturally. The reason is our internal biological clock which does not only helps us to fall asleep but also to wake up. The hour before you wake up your body temperature rises and important energy boosting hormones such as dopamine and cortisol are released helping you to start your day.
However, if you use an alarm clock this natural wake up process is often cut short, meaning your body isn’t yet ready when the alarm goes off. As a result, you wake up groggy and tired. Understandably, that you are just too tempted to hit the snooze button again in that state, also known as sleep inertia. But here is the catch: If you now extend your snoozing – or sleep inertia – chances are that you fall again into deeper sleep stages. That means instead of getting prepared to wake up you are going into the opposite direction towards deep sleep. When now the second alarm strikes, you are feeling even more tired, and so it continues.
There are two vital steps to prevent this vicious cycle:
First, set the alarm at the time when you really need to get up. So in case, it’s 7 am, don’t let it go off already at 6:30 am which would allow you to hit the snooze button. You are benefiting far more from an uninterrupted sleep until 7 am than from the 30 minutes of fragmented sleep-wake cycle. Getting up after uninterrupted sleep will help you to stay energized during the day and to easier fall to sleep at night. In case you might ask yourself: “How can I get up immediately after the alarm strikes at 7 am?” Try Mel Robbin’s 5-second-rule: count backwards 5-4-3-2-1 and just get up – it really works!
Second, adopt a more regular sleep schedule and get up at the same time every day – even on weekends. Daytime sleepiness is not only caused by sleep deprivation and waking up from deeper sleep in the mornings. It is also a result of lack of consistency. Although it might not always feel like it, our body and mind love predictability. And who knows, maybe after a few weeks into your regular sleep schedule you might not even need an alarm anymore, and you wake up naturally – the best way to start your day and feel fit all day until you hit the pillow again.
4. Start with mindfulness meditation exercises
Let’s turn to the mental sleep aid which is probably the biggest gift to yourself to get good quality sleep: your mind. If you are suffering from insomnia and feel exhausted by the constant worrying thoughts and fears it comes with, you might now be thinking: “My mind does not help me at all with my sleep. On the contrary, it is the very reason for my many sleepless nights.” Having been an insomnia sufferer myself, I totally understand from where you are coming. But let me ask you this: “If it is your mind which keeps you awake, don’t you think then that’s exactly where to start to fix the problem?”
Let me clear about this: I think there are definitely insomnia sufferers who will dramatically improve their sleep just by making some simple changes to their lifestyle such as changing their diet, reducing caffeine intake, setting up a better sleep environment or increasing exercises. However, for most of us battling with insomnia and the anxiety it comes with, the cure requires a different approach – one which involves understanding and working with our mind. But in a very different way than you might be thinking.
The mistake of trying to get rid of your anxiety and fear
What is your main thought when you are wide awake in bed at night, and your mind is racing around? Is it “If I only could get rid of these thoughts!”? Yes, of course, you want to block out any unpleasant feelings and control your pounding heart to become more relaxed and finally fall asleep. The problem is that avoiding your uncomfortable thoughts and emotions is a battle that keeps you awake.
Therefore, if it is your racing mind, your pondering heart, the constant worries and anxious feelings which keep you awake, then calming your mind is exactly where you have to start to cure your insomnia. The good news is that you have all the required mental and emotional resources in you so that you are perfectly capable of benefiting from them to improve your sleep as well as many other areas in our life. You just need to unlock your capabilities, and one perfect way to do this is with mindfulness meditation.
What are the benefits of mindfulness meditation for sleep?
When you do mindfulness meditation, you focus your mind in the present moment and observe your emotions, thoughts, and sensations without judging them. Thes two factors – living in the now and watching your experiences nonjudgmentally – are what makes mindfulness meditation so powerful in your struggle with insomnia. Instead of letting your mind racing around in the past and future and creating scenarios in your head that aren’t real, you learn to objectively observe and accept your unwanted thoughts and then to let them go.
A totally new perspective, allowing you to realize that there is nothing to be afraid of. The tools of mindfulness meditation give you the opportunity to calm down and to appreciate the present moment which finally puts you back on track to normal sleep.
I know it might sound a bit crazy and too simple, but the truth is that mindfulness meditation exercises are very practical and achievable because they are based on abilities that we all naturally possess. Techniques that give you the opportunity to calm down quickly and to appreciate the present moment.
How to start with mindfulness meditation for insomnia?
I would like to give you one mindfulness exercises which you can start practicing immediately. It is a body scan exercise which helps you to notice your senses and thoughts when you are lying in bed at night not being able to sleep. By focusing on what is going on in and around you in the present moment, you can mentally slow down and stop any excessive over-thinking; you relax and save energy for the next day.
Mindfulness exercise: Noticing your senses while scanning your body
When you lie in bed and can’t sleep start to notice what physical and emotional sensations you have while scanning your body. Start at your toes and feet and slowly focus on the different areas of your body while making your way upward until you reach the top of your head. Spend about 10 to 20 seconds on each part of your body. Are you sensing any pain, tightness, muscle twitching, itching or tingling?
If it is difficult for you to notice your sensations, you may merely turn your awareness to the weight of your body on the mattress and to the touch of your bed on your body.
In case you are experiencing any unwelcoming thoughts or feelings such as anxiety, frustration or panic, don’t try to push them away. Mind wandering and having thoughts is perfectly normal and allowed. Let the thought or the feeling be coming in by saying something like: “Hello anxiety, thank you for coming along” or “Hi panic, is this one of your regular visits?”, then gently turn back your focus on what you are experiencing right now.
What is the difference between describing and judging?
As the process of noticing and describing your thoughts non-judgmentally is vital for this exercise, it is crucial that you understand the difference between describing and judging. An example of a judgmental way of thinking regarding your anxious feelings would be: “If I don’t fall asleep within the next 20 minutes I will not be able to perform tomorrow at work.” By thinking this way, chances are that you get deeper and deeper into the vortex of negative thoughts and feelings leaving you more anxious than before.
Whereas, if you just describe objectively what you are noticing by saying “I am anxious and I can feel a knot in my stomach”, you mindfully choose to accept what is going on inside of you without adding any unhelpful evaluation or emotion to it. By doing so, you separate yourself from your current thoughts and feelings and have then the opportunity to let them pass by.
In case you are starting to feel sleepy while doing the body scan exercise, congratulations. However, keep in mind that falling asleep is not the primary goal of mindfulness meditation. So don’t start it with the intention to fall asleep quickly. That would mean that your revert back to an unhelpful solution-seeking avoidance strategy leaving you struggling with your current condition. Mindfulness is about noticing and accepting your physical and mental sensations in the present moment. As a consequence, your mind slows down, and you feel more relaxed which will ultimately put you back to normal sleep.
If you have insomnia finding what works for you may take some time. We all know that there is no quick fix.
However, it is not necessary to set up a long list of sleep-inducing rituals what to do to wind down. Instead, try these proven strategies and give them a few weeks. The positive effect on your sleep might not come in the first night or two. It may take some time, just stick with it and don’t give up.