Let’s paint the picture. You wake up at night, in the middle of the night, and whoosh goes your brain. Every thought, worry, stress, your constant to-do list comes crashing in and suddenly sleep seems impossible. We may experience this periodic episode of insomnia, which is called acute insomnia, from time to time, lasting for a few nights or up to a week or so. When I’m hosting my corporate sleep wellness events, would you surprised to know that questions about insomnia are the most popular? For many individuals night wakings happen each and every night, chronically, and it can be completely frustrating and totally defeating.
Most think that by staying in bed and tossing and turning until sleep finally comes (or doesn’t) is the answer. But what if I told you that if you can’t sleep at night the best thing you can do to fall back to sleep – is stop trying to sleep.
That may sound strange but you should be sleeping 85% of time that you are in bed; therefore it’s important to develop a strong association between your bed and sleep. Well, that’s tough to do if you constantly wake up at night and are lying awake in your bed struggling to fall asleep. Suddenly the space that should be inviting and promoting sleep is an area that fuels the stress in your world.
So I’m here to tell you to take the pressure off. If you find yourself lying awake in bed and can’t fall back to sleep – get out of bed. That’s right! Instead of lying in bed willing sleep to come, get out of bed and stop trying to sleep. Practice a calming activity for 10 or 15 minutes outside of your bedroom until you feel tired enough to try again. You may have to do this multiple times throughout the night and this process could last a few nights to a few weeks but with time you’ll have to leave your bed less and less, and you’ll be strengthening your association between sleep and your bed, helping you re-train your body to fall asleep easier.
It’s important to make sure that you are practicing the right calming activities when you do get out of bed. Don’t turn to technology! Turning on the TV, checking your emails, or scrolling through Facebook is not that answer. Establish an area within your home where you can set up a calming activity if you need to get out of bed. Create this environment BEFORE you go to sleep so that you aren’t stumbling around in the middle of the night.
- Read a chapter from your paperback novel in low light.
- Grab your favourite colouring book and colour. Good Night Sleep Site is an active supporter in adult colouring and its hand in calming and quieting the mind at bedtime. I was honoured to write the afterword for Color Me To Sleep.
- Tackle a crossword or start a puzzle.
- Create a worry dump journal and jot out all your thoughts and worries. Get them out of your head and on to paper. This will help you revisit these thoughts in the morning and not while you are trying to fall asleep.
- Practice mindful breathing and mediation. Use tools to quiet your mind when you do wake up throughout the night. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future. Any time your mind drifts into the future or the past or worries pop in, you simply redirect your thoughts to the present. It can be a powerful addition to your bedtime routine. Being mindful and mindful breathing takes time and it’s important to practice it throughout the day as well so that it becomes a habit that you can easily transition into when you need to at night.
It’s also important to follow the steps of proper sleep hygiene. What we do before the middle of the night wakings occur can help eliminate them as well.
Set up a calming sleep environment. Your bedroom should be for sleep only. Remove the clutter and technology. One of the main reasons we live in such a sleep deprived society is that we are always connected. Bright screens are always in front of our faces suppressing our melatonin. Our brains are consistently absorbing information – sometimes too stress filled to allow it to quiet down enough to fall asleep. It’s important to give yourself a tech curfew so that your bedtime routine no longer consisted of checking email, twitter, and watching the news.
Establish a consistent sleep pattern. It’s important to go to bed and wakeup in the mornings around the same time to keep your body clock in synch. This can be a tough step for some. When we synch our sleep with our natural sleep rhythms and internal 24-hour biological clock (sends signals to your body to be awake or asleep) we are able to achieve the best restorative sleep possible. Going to bed and waking up will become easier.
Help your children sleep better so that you can too. If your health, whether it be mentally or physically, is beginning to be affected due to loss of sleep because you are up half the night dealing with your kids, changes may need to be made. Use whatever family philosophy works for you family provided at the end of the day you are all able to function as a healthy family unit. If not, you may need to revisit your sleep plan and make some changes.
I’m giving you permission to stop trying so hard. Take a break from sleep if you need to and then try again. Practice makes perfect and with time, and consistency you will be able to drift of peacefully to sleep, even at 2 a.m. in the morning.
Alanna McGinn is a Certified Sleep Consultant and Founder of Good Night Sleep Site – a Global Pediatric and Family Sleep Team. She provides free child and family sleep support through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She invites you to join her sleep community as she works towards Good Night Sleep Site’s mission of a healthier rested family unit. For more sleep tips, subscribe to our newsletter and visit Good Night Sleep Site.