Insomnia can be a frustratingly difficult imbalance to correct.
However, even though sleep is not well understood, be assured that it can be greatly ameliorated or cured. You do not have to live with it for the rest of your life. In fact, you may be able to turn it into an important benefit!
Our bodies thrive on sufficient, high quality sleep. It’s important for both physiological and psychological reasons. A very effective torture is simply depriving someone of sleep!
If you have been dieting and exercising in an effort to lose weight, insomnia by itself will sabotage those efforts.
You may have insomnia if you have trouble going to sleep at bedtime or wake up in the middle of the night without being able to go back to sleep quickly. Are you well-rested and refreshed upon waking up in the morning? Do you feel that you slept enough? Are you alert during the day?
All sleep is not the same. In a good night’s sleep, we cycle through five different phases. If the cycle is interrupted, we simply don’t get the benefits we should get from sleep. Furthermore, the cycle often changes as we get older.
It’s true that there is a diversity in the quantity of sleep required. Neither too little nor too much is good.
Start with a baseline of 7 hours per night. If you are not getting that much sleep, you probably should be. If you are feeling less than 100%, getting too little sleep may be the only explanation required.
An occasional bout of insomnia is normal. There’s nothing to worry about. Here’s a simple way to handle occasional insomnia: get out of bed, go read a book or meditate until you feel sleepy, and go back to bed. (By way of contrast, do not turn on a television, computer, computer tablet, or radio. Keep your environment quiet and avoid such electronic stimulations.)
If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, please try a breathing exercise or aliveness awareness right in the dark as you lie in bed. If you regularly practice those anyway, that may be all you need.
If ongoing insomnia is a problem, please consider it an opportunity to learn about living better rather than as an obstacle. Insomnia is a symptom of a problem. Ignoring the symptom or deliberately undermining it (by, for example, taking either over-the-counter or prescription sleeping pills) do nothing to cure the problem.
To cure insomnia, figure out what’s causing it and eliminate that cause.
Because insomnia may have multiple causes, it can be frustrating to identify which one or which ones are causing insomnia in your case. However, if you eliminate all the common ones and are still having trouble sleeping, get some professional help from your physician or a sleep lab.
Sometimes, you may readily identify what’s causing it. If you are stricken with grief or any other powerful negative emotion such as fear or anger, the task is to dissolve that emotion. If you are jet-lagged, your body will rebalance in a week or two. If you are taking a new medication or if you have recently withdrawn from any kind of medications or drugs, that may be the problem.
Often, something physical is causing it. Ordinary infections, muscle aches or strains, joint sprains, or indigestion can do it. Imbalances or diseases of all kinds of bodily systems or organs can do it. Food additives can do it. Food intolerances can do it.
Unknown to you, you may be grinding your teeth at night (bruxism) or suffer from sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or somnambulism. You may realize that you are suffering from nightmares or night terrors.
If only to rule out these possibilities, if you have tried the usual measures without success and you still have an ongoing problem with insomnia, start by talking it over with your personal physician.
What are the usual measures? Here are the chief ones.
What not to do:
Do not consume much liquid in the five or so hours before bed.
Do not eat in the three hours or so before bed.
Do not ingest caffeine from any sources.
Do not consume alcohol.
Do not use any tobacco products.
Do not exercise in the five or so hours before bed.
Do not get an improper balance of exercise; in other words, get neither too much nor too little.
If you supplement with PS, do not take it in the evening.
Do not watch television or be on a computer or listen to music within several hours of retiring. Avoid all such stimulants in the evening.
Do not sleep in the same bed or even in the same room with someone else. Married people, for example, often fail to realize how much insomnia is unintentionally caused by their partners.
Avoid daytime naps. (Alternatively, if you take one, ensure that it is short, not more than about 10 minutes.)
What to do:
Regular habits undermine insomnia. Avoid shift work or overnight airplane flights. Go to bed about the same time every evening and get up about the same time every morning.
Throw away your alarm clock. If you have to have an alarm clock to wake up, you are getting insufficient sleep.
Go to bed early, preferably not long after dark. Get up early, preferably near sunrise. That’s how we evolved.
When you first get into bed, try progressive relaxation every night.
If you supplement with fish oil and magnesium, take them just before going to bed.
Ensure that your bedroom is quiet. If it isn’t and it’s not easy to fix that problem, use ear plugs or white noise. Think of sounds as like foods: be particular about which ones you ingest. Certainly do not fall asleep with the television on.
Ensure that your bedroom is totally dark. Do not have on nightlights or even any clock dials or on or off indicators from electronic devices that you can see. Get blackout blinds or shades or, less expensively, tape aluminum foil to the insides of any windows. Use a molded sleep mask.
Ensure that your bedroom is at a comfortable temperature for you. Keeping it cooler than the rest of the house or apartment really is often a simple cure for insomnia.
Ensure that your bed has a good mattress and foundation. (Although they are expensive, I use and recommend a Tempur-Pedic.)
Ensure that you have a good pillow. When lying on your side, it should be the proper height to keep your head, neck, and spine in alignment.
Orgasmic sex is a natural soporific. A warm bath before bed or a massage can be helpful.
Train yourself to sleep in the proper position. Do not sleep on your back or stomach. Instead, sleep on your side. Draw your knees up so that your upper legs are perpendicular to your spine and put a small pillow between your knees (to prevent your top leg from pulling on your lower back). Keep your arms down. To switch sides, just bring your knees and the pillow up and over. (Besides combatting insomnia, a side benefit of this is that you won’t wake up with a morning backache.)
When you get into bed, do not turn your mind loose. Do not let thoughts run wild. It’s best to stay focused on a meditative practice.
Eat well, which means permanently following a nutritional program that is high in good fats from natural sources, relatively high in proteins from natural sources, and low (normally, not over 25 grams daily) in carbohydrates even from good sources like organic vegetables and berries. Furthermore, eat several meals daily and balance your nutrient consumption among them.
What I call “racing mind insomnia” is sleeplessness caused by repetitive, useless thoughts. It’s a major kind of insomnia and neither physicians nor sleep lab technicians are trained to help you with it (other than by knocking you out with drugs). Curing it requires mastering an effective spiritual (breathing) practice.
As I’ve argued in the spiritual well-being section, I happen to believe that it’s impossible to live well without freeing yourself from the tyranny of unnecessary thoughts. The way to do this is to master some spiritual practice or other.
Therefore, if you are suffering from insomnia and are unable to pin down a physical cause, you have before you strong motivation to do spiritual work that is necessary for living well anyway.
If so, your insomnia is a blessing in disguise.
As always, if you know someone who might benefit from reading this,please pass it along.
Additional resource: Wiley & Formby’s Lights Out.