By: Kylee Bush, Ultimate Spark! Junior Coach
I am currently 21 years old, and I have struggled with sleep since I was 13. When I was 13, I was diagnosed with severe anxiety, and chronic migraines. I missed so much school, because I would have days straight of migraines, I couldn’t see properly, any light made it worse, and pain medicine did nothing. A normal symptom of anxiety is insomnia, but the medication I was on, to prevent migraines would help me sleep as well. My doctor did that, purposely. In the past year, I have come off that medication, because the biggest trigger was reduced. The only other trigger I have, is lack of sleep. This is where the issue comes in, I wake up on average, at least 4 times a night, and I have to allow a few hours just to fall asleep. I’m sure you can imagine the anxiety of me realizing I need to sleep, or else I’ll suffer from a migraine. Recently, I made it my mission to do what I can to prepare myself mentally for bedtime, and to get my sleep schedule back on track. The biggest help that I have found is creating a schedule. Here is what I have been doing:
1. Complete important tasks in the morning: Anyone who also suffers from insomnia knows the feeling of having a backwards circadian rhythm. Meaning that, in the evenings and at night, you feel wide awake but in the mornings and afternoons you feel ready for bed. You have to fight off that feeling. Have a good breakfast, and get started on anything important immediately. Knock it out. I usually start off with any cleaning I need to get done, then work on homework for a couple hours, and then on my work for a couple hours. If you do this in the morning, and afternoon then you have more time to wind down and relax before bed. That time is precious and should be treated as such.
2. Workout in the evenings: I used to workout in the mornings. I would workout before, or after breakfast, depending on how hungry I was. As someone with anxiety, I noticed my workouts are better after I have completed anything important. I don’t have a stream of thoughts telling me I should be focusing on work, or on school instead. I also have found that if I workout right before dinner, then I have plenty of time to just strictly relax after dinner. After dinner is my time to do what makes me happy and comfortable.
3. Put the phone away: When I say this I don’t mean literally. After dinner I stay off of social media. I love it, as any young adult does, but after dinner it is time to relax. I had the habit of getting sucked into my phone for hours, and just scrolling and scrolling endlessly. Now I will facetime my boyfriend, since he doesn’t live here, and that is it. I don’t touch instagram, facebook, twitter, or even my email. It will all still be there in the morning. I only use my phone to communicate and sometimes to read if I find that my kindle is dead. Staying off of my phone has helped tremendously.
4. Put on some pajamas: It is the end of the day now. It is safe to do this. As soon as your wind down time begins, put on some pjs. I had the habit of staying in my day clothes right up until I was ready to get in bed. Don’t do this. Your mind most likely associates pjs with bed time. If it takes you hours to fall asleep then put on your pjs as soon as your day is over. This is important. It makes it easier to relax, and it makes it so as soon as you’re ready to sleep you don’t have to get up and move around waking yourself back up. I also try to use a lamp instead of my main light, that way as soon as I’m ready to sleep I just reach over, turn it off, roll over, and I’m ready to go.
5. Start a journal: This is something that is especially helpful if your insomnia is anxiety induced. Anybody who has any form of anxiety probably can relate to what I am about to talk about next. Everyone assumes that anxiety is just constant worrying, but it isn’t. It is just a never ending stream of randomness, and an inability to turn my brain off. I found that when I would close my eyes all I would think about is everything I did, and didn’t do during the day, I’d get mad at myself for not doing more, and immediately begin planning out the entire next day. This cycle went on for hours. I decided instead of keeping it in my brain, I would write it down. I began a journal where I would write the date, and I’d create three lists. List number one was everything I accomplished that day, even the little things. List number two was anything I still have left to complete that I would like to focus on tomorrow. Finally list number three is a list of what I am most proud of from the day, it can be a short list, as it just needs to be at least one item. I then read the list outloud, and close the notebook.
6. Find what makes you relax: After I journal and I’m comfy and ready for bed I have a couple things I like to do. First I stretch. I have a lot of issues in my knees and back, and I find that stretching makes it easier to sleep. I take a few minutes to stretch and listen to a podcast. This makes it easier to get comfortable and helps prevent any soreness from working out. After this I talk with my boyfriend, and watch a little tv with him. It gives my mind something else to focus on, and gives me time with someone I love. I also take this time to play with my pets. I spend a few minutes playing with my dog, and cuddling with my hedgehog, and feeding him. After this I read a book. I love to read, and it is something I have always enjoyed. I know a lot of adults feel as if they don’t have time to read, but if you get the important stuff done in the morning, and allow yourself a couple hours of wind down time, then you can read. I try to read a chapter, or two, usually just until I feel my eyes getting tired. Once I feel my eyes getting tired I know it will be easier for me to sleep. Finally I put on a podcast, and set a sleep timer and fall asleep. There are countless podcasts geared towards helping people sleep, and even guided meditations you can try. I find that a book, and a podcast is my combination for sleeping more easily.
I hope that even if you don’t suffer from insomnia, or anxiety, that you can take something away from this. I have experienced a lot of improvement following these steps. I hope it can do that for other people too. It all comes down to customizing your own schedule, and maybe even taking a few of my sleep hacks. I know what it is like to feel backwards, and out of loop with everyone else. Just remember that you are in control of your own body, and mind, and if you can find what works best for you then you will be set. Give it some time. You won’t notice changes over night, but after a few consistent days you will slowly feel less tired during the day, and more tired at night. There is hope, so don’t feel like the pillow will always haunt you, you’ll still have some bad nights, but this can help tremendously.