Mental health and sleep have a weird relationship. Some people find they can’t stop sleeping, others find they can’t sleep at all. The struggle with sleep can aggravate other symptoms of depression and anxiety so it’s important to try and tackle the sleep issue head on.
Again, as with all these posts, I am not a professional. I am not an expert in anything but living with my own demons and my own brain. But hopefully my experiences will be useful for others going through their own sleep troubles.
I’ve always had issues with sleep. Since I was a tiny person. The main issue with getting to sleep for me, is that no matter how physically exhausted I am, the minute the light goes out, my mind starts to race. Some nights, it races so fast with so many thoughts that I feel nauseous.
Horrible, dark thoughts come to mind, its almost like a nightly competition to think of the worst thing I can. And then top it. And repeat. Over and over again.
In recent years, I’ve found ways to control it. But if I don’t wind down properly for bedtime and go through my routine, it can flare up again.
And if I’m not in my own bed – it’s game over.
Here are some of the elements of my bedtime routine, in the hope they may help you off to a serener slumber…
Write it down
I keep 2 notebooks by my bed. Sometimes, if something is looming over my head before bed such as a big meeting the next day, money worries or an argument with someone I’ll pick up notebook 1 (I’ll get to notebook 2 in the next step) and go through the following steps:
- I’ll write down my worry.
- Next, I’ll write down the worst possible outcome of this worry.
- Then, I’ll write down how I’ll handle the worry.
- I’ll score my worry out of 1-10 on the scale of things to be worried about
It doesn’t make the problem or worry go away, but it certainly gets it out of my system and puts it into perspective.
Here’s where notebook 2 comes in. Although you can combine in one bloody book if you’re a proper rebel. Make your own rules.
I am a doodle thug. When I’m stressed, anxious, upset or angry I doodle like a muthafucker. I discovered ‘zen doodles’ a technique of drawing repetitive shapes to occupy the brain. It’s like mindful colouring I guess but with less pencil admin and stress of going outside of the lines.
I have a zen doodle book my lovely mate Emily gave me for Christmas. It’s perfect for bedtime if reading is proving a bit much for my brain after a long day. There are tons of zen doodle exercises online if you don’t want to get a dedicated book.
And as for pen admin, I tend to just use a solitary black pen for the occasion and see what monochrome brilliance I can create.
No. It’s not for girls. It’s not for hippies. It’s for your peace of mind so stop being an idiot and get on board the bedtime yoga train. This 7 minute routine is so easy and relaxing even the most inflexible person can do it.
Yoga with Adriene is amazing, there are longer practices and more challenging ones if you feel, but this one never fails to do the trick. Just grab a blanket, or sit on your bed and take some deep breaths. I’ll do another blog another time about yoga as I think the benefits for the brain are incredible.
Herbal tea is your friend. My particular favourite is Pukka’s sleepy time tea. A cup of this after a bedtime yoga is the best wind down before climbling into bed.
Let’s talk about SAD lamps.
SAD lamps emits white light.
“Aren’t all lights white?” I hear you ask.
Well… here’s my shitty attempt at ‘the science part’*
(*I’m not a scientist)
Most bulbs emit a blue light. The same sort of light that comes from your smart phones, tablets and computers. Despite it’s name, white light is actually made up of all colours and is the type of light emitted by the sun. White light therapy is used to help with depression, anxiety and S.A.D. because it encourages the production of serotonin. Serotonin helps regulate the body’s wake/sleep cycle and is vital in help us get a good night’s sleep.
So, after a lot of research I saved up and invested in a Lumie body clock. It’s meant for waking you up naturally with its ‘sunrise’ setting. Which really does help me feel less groggy when I wake (although I need a real alarm clock too).
But what I have discovered that is revolutionary for a chronic insomniac like me, is the sunset setting. I find if I read a book or doodle while the sunset is on… I naturally drift off to sleep. It’s changed bedtime for me.
No more minds racing in the dark.
Sometimes none of the above works and the mind begins to race. Or I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. This is where my friends The Honest Guys come into play. Again, meditations are not just for hippies. The Honest Guys’ meditations are very straight talking, non-hippy-dippy language and come in a variety of styles.
Their white noise, amazing soundscapes and pretty music are accompanied with the dulcet tones of an honest guy (I do not know his name) who’s gentle voice is great for getting to sleep.
There are other great apps out there like the awesome Headspace – but the Honest Guys does it for me. Try out a few and see what works best for your head.
My final tip is to take a look at your room. Is it a calming place to be? Experiment with colours, storage and layout to create an environment that doesn’t scream ‘tidy me!’, ‘do more laundry!’, ‘look at all this crap you need to sort out!’ every time you try to get to sleep. Its probably in my head but choosing pale greens, grays, yellows and whites to decorate my room has made it feel so peaceful to be in.
I find good PJs, comfy bedding and routine a vital part of sleep. If I need a good night’s sleep I put my comfiest clothes on, lather my hands with a nice smelling overnight hand cream (a weird thing that works for me) and pile on my favourite bed sheets.
If you have to have your phone in there for your alarm (or if you’re a worry-wart like me ‘just in case’, put it face down, vibrate mode off and use an app/phone setting that only lets emergency calls through at night. Android has loads of apps, Apple’s sleep setting will let you select who can get through at night.
And that’s it for now. I’ll update again if I find anything new and exciting in the sleep world to share. Always open to more tips and tricks – send them to me.
Good luck fellow insomniacs, sweet dreams.