Tips from a recovering insomniac for better sleep

I was talking to a client yesterday about how to get better sleep when you’re the type of person who is what naturopaths call Wired and Tired. It’s a stage in adrenal exhaustion, very much a response to stress, and very hard to break yourself out of. You are tired all day and properly awake at night, you become increasingly anxious and it can go on and on in an increasingly severe negative feedback loop until you get quite ill. When you’re in this space the usual tips and tricks for better sleep like “have a ritual” or “meditate before bed” are completely unrealistic. Your Wired and Tired type of person is going to have to learn to climb down several steps before even contemplating rituals. That’s fine. I’ve been working on this myself all year, and I have some ideas that may help you.

First of all, get away from the screens for at least half an hour before bed (preferably an hour). Non-negotiable. Set an alarm if you have to. Get away from that blue light. It tells your brain that it’s still day time, which disrupts the circadian rhythm, the proportional daily rise and fall between melatonin and cortisol. We need an increase in melatonin at night to sleep well, and raised cortisol (due to stress or bright light hitting our retinas) keeps us awake. A normal balanced rise in cortisol gets us going in the morning. There’s blue light glasses to help with this, but really, get away from your screens. Whatever it is will still be there tomorrow.

Avoid eating much after dinner. Only have a piece of fruit or a warm caffeine-free drink or some water, preferably at least an hour before bed. Energy-dense foods such as chocolate, lollies or chips give your body fuel to keep powering on. A Wired and Tired person probably actually craves sugar or snacks late at night. That’s your cue that it’s time to go to bed. You’ve already had dinner. You know you’re fine. Bed.

Get an alarm clock that is not your mobile phone for your bedroom. Congratulations, your phone no longer lives, there, it gets plugged in to recharge in another room on silent (except for the emergency contact people that you’ve nominated already to be able to reach you) on something soft so you can’t hear it vibrate with all the various notifications. Use the Do Not Disturb or Quiet Time functions on your phone. Turn off your notifications. Get rigid about how much you are going to let that thing bother you. There’s all kinds of alarm clocks out there. You probably own one or have a radio that will do it already. Don’t have the radio wake you to the news. It’s never good. We know this already. The news can wait.

Get ready for the next day. Do things like put your clothes out, iron your work shirt, get your lunch ready, do the washing up, fold clothes, pack your bag. Anything that will get you away from the screens that will also give you less to stress out about tomorrow morning. We don’t want you going to bed with your thoughts still racing about what you don’t want to forget tomorrow morning. If a whole bunch of stuff is already done you will start tomorrow ahead of the game. If this becomes a ritual the level of stress in your daily life will decrease.

Bathing before bed is great to wash off the detritus of the day, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually (if that’s your thing). It’s a great thread breaker if you’ve been in a stressful environment or around unpleasant people. Use some lovely scented things. This is a good time to break out some aromatherapy. I use the moment to practice good skin care. If I’ve been in a funk the first thing methodically do to pull myself out of it is to start with the skin care routine. Wash. Serum. Moisturise. Dry skin brush if you like. Brush your hair. Brush your teeth. Take your night time meds and supplements. Only drink a small amount of water to minimise getting up in the night.

Now you are going to do a big word vomit. If you’re up all night with words racing around in your head and you’re stressed about all the jobs you have to do, everything you’d like to say to that person, all the big plans you have…. The list goes on. It’s a din in there, and it’s keeping you awake at night.

You are now going to put it all down on paper. No screens, remember? So the scrap paper is for the jobs for tomorrow, your shopping list, the stuff you need for work. This is also doing yourself a solid for tomorrow because I find the anxious, over-committed, under slept types tend to flap around all day and then feel like they haven’t achieved anything (and then become even more anxious and sleep even less and the din in their heads gets even louder). Seeing a set series of tasks in front of you is empowering because you now know exactly what you have to do. You’re going to put this list in your bag first thing when you get up tomorrow morning.

I get my best, most creative ideas at night, so I write them down too. There’s no way I’d come up with stuff this good in the day time, and by tomorrow it will be gone. Write it down. I have a separate book for this, for goals and business plans. Invaluable. I have previously gotten to the end of the year and been frustrated that I haven’t achieved what I wanted to, probably after a lot of flapping around. That’s because I didn’t see it all right there in front of me, methodically planned out. Now it is. I am much more productive and it is very satisfying.

If you are a writer, you are not going to start writing your story or essay now. You can write your plan and outline and little snippets of dialogue or things to look up so it doesn’t disappear on you. You are absolutely not going to write out chapters now. That will still be there tomorrow. Just write out enough to get things out of your head so that you can rest easier.

Oh, and feelings. Purge them on paper too. I have a diary (very separate from my goals and plans book and never on my shopping list) where I occasionally write out all the feelings that are keeping me up late. I write letters to the people who provoke such strong emotions in me that keep me awake at night. I never send them. If anyone read it they’d be worried about my mental health as though I feel that way all the time. I absolutely do not. I purge it all so then it’s gone, fall asleep and then don’t feel the need to read it again. If it’s a positive thing, write your love a love letter. Give it to them. Why not? Dying arts are not yet dead. Have at it. Vive l’amour.

And finally, I’ve found that the Wired and Tired type have a hard time being kind to themselves. A very powerful way to ease into getting better at being kind and nurturing towards yourself is to lean into nostalgia. Nostalgia is positive, comforting and familiar. Put on your favourite old pyjamas, start re-reading your favourite books and quietly play your favourite music, especially the more relaxing albums you loved as a teenager.

I will help you get started with the music. If you feel like nostalgia and you’re one of my old school massage clients who came to see me when I was working on Lawrence Street or Limestone Street, here is one of my favourite albums by Ludovico Einaudi, who I played to my massage clients every day between 2009 and 2013. He wrote Nightbook from sketches he wrote in the notebook he kept beside his bed late at night when he was on tour. Very apropos. Enjoy!

Thank you for reading!

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