I have always had a war with sleep. Up until a couple of years ago, though, I managed to squeak by with just enough. I am an upbeat, happy person, and sneaking a nap in occasionally helped me to reset. As I got older and took on the pressures and stress of a family and career, I found anxiety stealing that precious sleep away from me. Worry took root in my adult brain, and more and more frequently, I found myself tossing in my bed with the worries of the day.
“Do I need to look for another job?” “Are my kids adjusting at their new school?” “Is Dad going to be okay?” “Is my daughter too sensitive?” “Why is my husband so distant lately?” These thoughts kept me up into the wee hours of the morning, at which time I might drift into a fitful sleep, only to be woken a couple of hours later by a rude alarm clock.
I’m sure that the hormone changes as I got older did not help the situation one bit. I didn’t realize how much of a role hormones played in the sleep I was getting. After struggling with irritability, inability to rouse, and an addiction to caffeine created from trying to get through the day, I decided enough was enough–I needed to take back my sleep! Could prayer be the answer? Admittedly, sometimes it is the last place I go.
I tried to give my worries to God, and it helped a little. My prayers sounded a lot like desperate begging after weeks with little sleep, though. While waiting for relief from prayer, I started trying other things. After months of trying unsuccessful combinations of medications and herbal remedies, I realized it is many things must change when you are addressing a sleeping problem. Desperation drove me to discover a combination of methods that worked perfectly for me.
Write it Down
Keeping a journal by my bed to record my worries helped a lot. I would write my thoughts, fears, emotions, and problems every night. It was like a giant purge where I got all my worrying down on paper–in a way; it released me of the obligation to think about those worries anymore. It can be likened to the Guatemalan tradition of using Worry Dolls, to hold your worries at night. The dolls “worry for you” so you can get the rest you need.
Simply put, I put my higher power in charge of all my worries. After I wrote, I prayed, and this was just an affirmation that He was in charge of my life, not me. I am one of those people that doesn’t believe that He will change things for me if I only pray. If it’s not His will, it’s not His will–so mainly I just ask for acceptance of His plan, and that gives me peace. I know that He will do what’s best for me in the end.
I found that if I didn't get enough exercise every day, my body was just not worn down enough to go to sleep. I tried to aim for 30 minutes of cardio, five days a week. There was a direct connection between cardiovascular exercise and not only how quickly I went to sleep but also how restful my sleep was. Weight lifting also helped wear out my muscles and get them ready for sleep.
I am a morning coffee person. Oh, how I love my coffee! And most afternoons I hit a slump around two or three o’clock that left me dragging myself around the office. So of course, I’d have some green tea or coffee to pick me up. But I realized that sometimes when I made the choice to have caffeine later in the day, it was affecting my ability to fall asleep when I wanted to later that night. When I chose to restrict my caffeine consumption to nothing after 4 p.m., I was able to fall asleep at the time I wanted.
While trying to get comfortable every night, I slowly realized that my mattress was really hampering my ability to sleep. I tossed and turned a lot and was sore when I woke. I experienced lower back pain and realized that if I didn’t change what I was sleeping on, my sleep probably was not going to get a lot better. Luckily, there are lots of mattresses on the market for different sleep issues and back pain. Instead of replacing my mattress completely, though, I just added a memory foam mattress topper and it made all the difference.
My husband and I couldn’t agree on a type of music to listen to at night, and I tried (unsuccessfully) to sleep with earphones in my ears while I slept. He was okay with listening to ambient noise, so I tried white noise for a while, but it just sounded too harsh. I discovered pink noise (picture the gentle whirring of a fan) and fell in love. I bought a track on iTunes and put it on endless loop, but you can also find pink noise on YouTube, Spotify, and SoundCloud. The added bonus to pink noise is that studies have shown that it has a positive effect on memory retention.
After a lot of trial and error, and a lot more prayer, I am happy to report that I have regained a good night’s sleep–most nights. I realized that sometimes my higher power doesn’t just change things for me. Sometimes He just gives me the tools to change things myself. And sometimes the motivation to do that comes from a place of desperation. It took going through a battle with insomnia to see how important sleep truly is in my life. Good sleep is crucial! My mood, my attention span, and my relationships with friends and family have all had a positive change since conquering insomnia.