In my favourite textbook, Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, page 538 begins:
Habitual sleeplessness is classified as insomnia. Failure to get an entire night’s sleep on most nights over a one-month period can be considered chronic insomnia. Insomnia can take the form of being unable to fall asleep when you first go to bed or waking during the night and being unable to go back to sleep. It affects one out of ten Americans… In some cases, sleep-related problems can last for months or even years… Chronic insomnia is often a symptom of a serious underlying medical disorder.
One in ten Americans is quite a lot. Think about your family around the table at Christmas dinner: there’s often upwards of ten people, meaning that one of those people could potentially suffer from insomnia. Insomnia stems from many different things, such as depression, anxiety, stress, grief, arthritis, breathing problems, kidney or heart disease, caffeine consumption and some medications.
I’ve had some form or another of insomnia off and on for years. For the longest time it took the form of waking up in the middle of the night. These days I tend to just be unable to fall asleep, for all variety of reasons. For example, I’m very susceptible to caffeine and any kind of food in my system past about 5pm – if I have a meal after that time period, there’s a good chance I’ll have difficulty getting to sleep. Often I can’t get to sleep because I can’t turn off my brain (I’ve always been absolutely terrible at meditation, haha).
As frustrating as it can be, it’s always good to look at the positive! Believe it or not, you can accomplish quite a lot if you have insomnia. Think of it as having a whole extra four to eight hours that you wouldn’t normally have had in the day. If you suffer from insomnia, or even just have an occasional sleepless night, these are some of the things I do which you might find useful:
1) Work. If anxiety or another psychological disorder is preventing you from sleeping, work can be a great way to distract yourself and make yourself productive. Sometimes if I can’t get to sleep at night, it’s because I feel as though I didn’t do everything I could have with my day. If I then work at the computer for several hours, I have a better chance of getting back to sleep or at least feeling more at ease the next day, knowing that I caught up with whatever I needed to. Working is also a really good idea because after a night of insomnia, it’s likely you won’t function as well the following day. If you can do more the night before, you won’t have to worry as much about the amount that you have to do the following day.
2) Shower. Showering is relaxing. It also wakes me up some more, which is rather useful if you want to have a more alert brain to get some quality work completed.
3) Exercise. If you’re feeling restless, exercising can help to relieve that. Do not go outside in the middle of the night. I might pace around my condo with a book, go on the treadmill, or do strength training or an exercise DVD in the safety of my home. Going outdoors in the dead of night probably is not the safest option, and I do not condone it.
4) Read. Get acquainted with Hemingway or Dostoyevsky, or any other author that you’ve been meaning to read but never had time for. Guess what? Insomnia gives you that time.
5) Clean. There is nothing better than waking up in the morning to a sparkling, shiny clean home. The middle of a night is a good time to dust, scrub the bathtub, and organize the pile of papers on your desk.
6) Cook. If you’re the type who likes to make big casseroles or vast quantities of soup, this is the perfect opportunity to do it. I recommend not eating in the middle of the night, though, as it can mess with your sense of the time of day and might just worsen your insomnia.
It’s best to try to get help with your insomnia because sleep is very important to the body. But it may take time to be able to sleep properly once again, so why not take advantage of insomnia while you can? It sure beats lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and wishing you could just fall asleep already!
What do you like to do if you can’t fall asleep at night?