Most of us have sleepless nights from time to time. It’s frustrating, not not mention exhausting! But as part of my narcolepsy diagnosis, I’m learning to accept it for what it is and find ways to deal with it.
Despite my extreme daytime sleepiness and the need for naps to keep me going, some nights I find that sleep still evades me and I’ll be wide awake for hours unable to catch 40 winks (how ironic when I struggle so much to stay awake in the day!). So, instead of dwelling on it, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to pass the time. Most of them end up making me sleepy eventually or at least making the time pass faster, and I find it better to do these things than lying in bed worrying and wishing I could sleep.
Don’t clock watch
First things first, stop looking at the time. The more you clock watch, the more you’ll end up counting down the hours and minutes until your alarm goes off. Then you’ll end up worrying about how little sleep you’ll get and how tired you’ll be feeling the next day. But it won’t change the fact that you’re lying in bed wide awake, so there’s no point in feeling anxious about it and making things worse by worrying about tomorrow.
Instead, let’s deal with the here and now. Read on for some ideas to distract your mind from insomnia…
Read a book
I find that reading helps in a couple of ways. Firstly, a good story gives you a sense of escapism, almost like a dream. So by reading a book, you can get away from the tedium of sleepless nights and escape to another world to pass the time. Trust me, it’s way more interesting than spending time with your own exhausted thoughts.
Secondly, I find that reading makes me sleepy. Scanning words on a page is a repetitive action for the eye muscles, so it can start to make your eyelids feel heavy in a short space of time…. and before you know it, you won’t be able to keep your eyes open. Hello sleep!
Write a blog
Tonight, I’ve written three blogs. Yes, it’s been one of those nights! When I’m wide awake in the middle of the night, I end up with thoughts and ideas racing through my mind. It’s like my creative spark is alight when my brain is stuck between waking and dreaming. So, putting pen to paper (or in this case, logging into WordPress on my phone) gives me an outlet for my thoughts and gets things off my mind. Sometimes, I read the blog the next day and realise I’ve written an utter load of tripe and jibberish nonsense. But other times, it seems my best blogs pop into my head in the dead of night!
If you’re not a blogger, it might help to write a journal or a diary instead. It’s a great way to get things off your mind that might be keeping you awake at night.
Play a word game
I save this trick for when I’m getting a bit more desperate for sleep, or for the nights when I’m so tired I can’t concentrate on reading or blogging. It might sound counter-productive, but word games are my secret weapon. Instead of making my brain more active, they send me on the path of sleep in no time.
I’ve downloaded a couple of pretty boring word games on my phone which are as dull as dishwater and destined to send anyone to sleep. One of them is a word search full of words that I’m pretty sure aren’t even real. And another is a game where you have to make anagrams and words out of a bunch of letters, and again, I’m sure they’re words that don’t even exist. But in both cases, they’re such tedious and pointless games that they send me to sleep out of pure monotony. It’s a relief to nod off in the middle of a word search when the words don’t even make sense!
Just remember to use a blue light filter on your phone if you decide to try this one. Blue light can trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime, and that’s the last thing you need when you can’t sleep.
Listen to an audio book or a podcast
If keeping your eyes open feels like the last thing you want to do, an audio book or podcast might be your holy grail. There are some fantastic audios and podcasts to transport you to another world and distract you from the fact that you can’t sleep at night. Just make sure you don’t listen to ones you’re really interested in absorbing, or ones that are thought-provoking. That might end up tipping you the other way instead of lulling you off to sleep like a bedtime story!
Pop your headphones in for the added bonus of not waking up everyone else in your house whilst you while away some time.
Have morning and evening routines
There’s no denying the fact that a sleepless night will lead to a sleepy day. But having a good morning routine can help to set you up and reset your batteries. Don’t keep snoozing your alarm, but instead get up on time, stretch, have a shower, splash cold water on your face, and have a good breakfast and a strong cup of coffee. Do all the things you can to reset your body clock and tell your brain it’s daytime.
I also use a SAD lamp – the extra ‘daylight’ reminds my brain that it’s time to be awake and alert. It really helps me to stay more focussed when I need to get work done on particularly sleepy days. But on video calls in work, I’ve been told it looks like I’m using some sort of vlogging light because I’m lit up like a beacon!
Then, the same goes for a bedtime routine. A good night’s sleep starts here. Try to keep your bedtime consistent and find ways to wind down and relax to promote sleep. My current favourites are hot chocolate, fragrant wax melts and candles, relaxing yoga, and an Epsom salt foot soak. It puts me in the mindset for sleep and is the best way of telling my brain that it’s time to switch off for the night.
So next time you have a sleepless night, give a couple of these tricks a go – it might just help you out! Do you have any other tips and tricks for beating insomnia?