Let’s face it, humans have a hard time sleeping these days. This post is the sequel to my first article on sleep, “Why Can’t I Sleep? (Insomnia Hacks Part 1).” If you haven’t read it, I’d check that out first to get your primed and ready. It covers circadian rhythms, sleep schedules, blue light exposure, and environmental factors that contribute to insomnia. As a Spoonie, I struggle with both getting to sleep and staying asleep, but I’ve discovered some gems along the way that help me minimize my sleep struggles. Without further ado, here are a few more insomnia hacks…
1. The Problem: Restless Legs and Tense Muscles
- Do your legs kick and twitch all night long? Do you wake up in the morning and it looks like a group of angry gnomes mangled your bedding while you were asleep? If so, you might have a diagnosable case of Restless Leg Syndrome or simply some irritated nerves that turn you into a midnight marathon runner. Either way, restless legs and tense muscles in general can make it very difficult to go to sleep and stay asleep.
The hack: A Magnesium Supplement
- I cannot recommend this product enough–“CALM” brand magnesium powder has been a miracle for helping with my insomnia. I used to have extremely restless legs that would twitch and jerk all night (and sometimes even during the day) so that I couldn’t fall asleep, or the movement would suddenly wake me up in the middle of the night. It is both startling and exhausting to deal with restless legs. Fortunately, I found that this over the counter magnesium supplement does the trick. Every night about 30 minutes before I intend to go to sleep, I warm up a glass of water and mix 1 teaspoon of the powder into it. It tastes pretty good, it doesn’t have any sugar or gross additives, and it seriously works. I have been drinking this stuff every night for about 6 months and I haven’t had a case of restless legs since–amazing!
- Note: There are pill forms of magnesium you can get, but I recommend drinking the powdered form in hot water because the warm drink makes you feel extra sleepy and helps you wind down for the night.
2. The Problem: A Busy Mind or Racing Thoughts
- Personally, my brain seems to be confused, because all day long I can’t think, and then at 9PM somebody flips a switch and my brain springs into action! I’m suddenly thinking of every single thing I need to do this week, or I’m worrying about the future, or I’m making mental plans that I’m excited about. A busy mind does not sleep well and it can keep you up for hours, especially if you suffer from anxiety. If you struggle to reign in your thoughts at bedtime, then this next hack might be for you!
The Hack: Write in a “Worry Journal”
- Sometimes all it takes to let go of a thought is to physical write it down. And using a “computer diary” or writing notes on your smartphone doesn’t count, because the brightness of the screen will wake you up even more. Plus, the kinesthetic action of moving a pen across the paper can help your mind relax and release those racing thoughts onto the page. I like to think of the journal as a temporary holding-place for these thoughts, and that I can access them again in the morning when my brain has time to deal with them. The truth is, whether you are thinking about something negative or whether you are focused on something you’re really excited about, your brain receives both of these signals a “stress” and it keeps you awake in order to sort these “stresses” out, to protect you. However, most of the things we are worried about aren’t life threatening, so it’s best to just get them out onto a sheet of paper before bed so your brain can calm down.
- Your “worry journal” or “thoughts journal” can be a place for your to pour out all of your ideas, to-do lists, anxieties, plans, and emotions before bed. Consistently writing in a journal before bedtime also helps establish a nightly routine, which is a vital part of beating insomnia.
3. The Problem: Nighttime Anxiety & Nightmares
- Speaking as someone who has had chronic nightmares all her life, I can safely say that nighttime can be terrifying even if you’re an adult, and there’s no shame in admitting to that. I’m currently 23 but I never really grew out of my “scared of the dark” phase, so I still experience anxiety almost every night as I crawl under my covers. Ironically, my body requires a completely pitch black room in order to get some shut-eye, so I’m caught between my need for a dark environment and my need to triple-check my closet for monsters. This awkward paradox led me to a discovery that is both simple and effective for crushing nighttime anxiety.
The Hack: A Weighted Blanket
- In recent years, there have been lots of new developments to help people on the Autism spectrum cope with stressful situations. As scientists learn more about the nervous system, new hacks for battling anxiety and hypersensitivities emerge. Some of these popular developments are backpacks and clothing items that are “weighted” to provide comfort but not restrain you.
- They suggest that the weight and even pressure helps calm the nervous system, which in turn calms the mind in situations that may feel overstimulating, which is helpful for those on the Autism spectrum as well as those with crippling anxiety. At night, anxiety and irrational fears also feel overstimulating and make you hypersensitive to every creak and rustle in the house, so a weighted blanket might be a great way to overcome those fears. Its like getting a protective hug all night long, but it isn’t heavy enough to make your feel claustrophobic. So if you experience nightmares, anxiety, or if you just plain have trouble sleeping through the night, a weighted blanked might work great for you.
4. The Problem: Waking up in the Middle of the Night
- If you have a habit of waking up suddenly in the middle of the night or early in the morning, you might be experiencing low blood sugar while you’re asleep. Especially if you wake up and you’re starving, low blood sugar might definitely be the culprit.
The Hack: A Hearty Bedtime Snack
- Eat a small fat or protein snack just before bed. When you eat a lot of carbohydrates (such as fruit, sugar, or any grain product) your blood sugar goes up and back down in just about an hour. But, if you eat a protein (meat, legumes, eggs) or a fat (avocado, nuts, butter) then your body has energy for several hours and your blood sugar will stay more stable. So, if you get hunger cravings that wake you up at night, try eating a few spoonful’s of peanut butter or drink a mug of herbal tea with coconut oil, and see if that helps you stay asleep. Here’s a list of healthy, high-fat foods that you could incorporate into your nightly snack.
Other reasons you can’t fall asleep:
If you find that you’re just too alter to get to sleep, you may want to consider your stress levels and your caffeine intake. Some people or much more sensitive to caffeine and emotional stress than others are.
- Caffeine intake: Drinking any caffeine after 3pm if you’re sensitive to it, or drinking alcohol at night Caffeine means coffee, energy drinks, most sodas, non-herbal teas, and even some over the counter medications (like Excedrin for headaches). Alcohol can make you feel sleepy, but your sleep quality will be garbage. Alcohol before bed inhibits the deepest levels of sleep, so you might hit the pillowcase quickly but you’ll be less refreshed in the morning.
- Emotional stress: Psychological stress can flood a sensitive person’s body with adrenaline, leaving them very alert for several hours after their exposure to the stressor has past. This is no good if you’re up late working on a difficult work project or homework assignment. Stress = adrenaline = no sleep. This is also true if you have a fight with a family member or significant other right before bed. So, obviously you don’t plan to have an argument with someone, but you do have some control over how you schedule your day around work or studying. If you can, avoid working late into the night so your brain and body can have an hour or two to chill and prepare for sleep.
- Medication Side Effects: Insomnia is a side effect of many medications, and even some natural supplements, so be aware that a medication may be to blame for troubles. If this is the case, changing your meds might eliminate your sleeping struggles!
Wishing you lots of zzz’s!
Em the Silver Spoonie