“I have been tossing and turning for the last 3 hours! I am so tired but I can’t sleep”
When we are having a tough time with our relationships, our career, and have anxieties about life-we can experience insomnia. You could be doing well in your day to day life but the anxiety and worries come in at night and unfortunately keep you awake for hours and sometimes few nights at a time. What starts out as anxiety with situations in your life can make you feel worried about the idea of going to sleep.
Most adults have trouble sleeping because they feel worried or nervous, but for some it’s a pattern that interferes with sleep on a regular basis. Anxiety symptoms that can lead to insomnia include:
- Getting caught up in thoughts about past events
- Excessive worrying about future events
- Feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities
- A general feeling of being revved up or overstimulated
It is important to change your lifestyle so that you are able to get the sleep you need. When you are not able to sleep, you are going to have a difficult time managing your work, your family responsibilities, and managing stressful situations.
Why does Insomnia go on for a long time?
We don’t change our habits and we do the same things that we think will get us back to sleep.
- Watch TV in the middle of the night-This is not effective because you are doing something that is engaging. TV shows and movies can last for a long time and that will keep you awake longer.
- Social Media-This is also not effective because you can be on your phone for a few hours and that will not help the insomnia.
- Stay in bed and keep trying to sleep-This does not help because it keeps you anxious about sleeping and you are not trying to do something different. I have gone through periods of insomnia where I have stayed in bed for 5 hours and it made me go crazy. I was so tired from trying to sleep.
- Eat food-It is not a good habit to eat food in the middle of the night. It can make you gain weight and keep you awake longer.
What can you do if you are facing sleeplessness?
The most important thing to do is GET UP. It is counter-intuitive because when you are tired, you don’t want to get up and do something. It will actually get you back to sleep if you try it. You should also turn away the clock because the more you see the clock ticking away, the more anxious you feel.
You can read a book, journal your feelings, drink some herbal tea, move around, or do muscle relaxation (focusing on different parts of the body and releasing the tension). Generally, if you interrupt the sleeplessness with another quiet activity, you will actually fall back asleep because your body is tired. One good rule of thumb: Pick an activity that is not too engaging so you can get back to sleep.
It helps to think of insomnia as your friend and be gentle to it. There is a reason you are waking up and it is a call to deal with something that you might be worried about. We often ignore feelings that are distressful in our waking day, so where it comes to haunt us is during our sleep.
How can you change your lifestyle and have good sleep hygiene so it sets you up for success?
- Do not nap during the day-Many people want to nap because they are tired since they did not sleep the night before. It is important to keep your body awake during the day so that you are really tired at night. Otherwise, the cycle of insomnia will continue and you will have sleepless nights for longer.
- Drinking caffeinated tea, coffee, or too much sugar at night- A 2005 National Sleep Foundation poll found that people who drank four or more cups/cans of caffeinated drinks a day were more likely than those who drank zero to one cups/cans daily to experience at least one symptom of insomnia at least a few nights each week.
- Keeping the phone off at night so you cannot read texts and emails from friends/co-workers/family-Why is it so important to be accessible at all hours of the night? For many individuals who have struggled with insomnia, it helped them to leave the phone out of the room. If it has to be in the room, since it is your alarm, then leave it on silent so you are not disturbed by notifications and emails.
- Stay away from alcohol at night-It may initially make you go to sleep, but your sleep will not be as restful and it may disrupt your sleep later in the night.
- You should not work an hour before you go to sleep-When you work right before you sleep, it can make you feel more anxious about tensions at work and cause more stress at sleep time rather than calming yourself down.
- Exercising Daily-Exercising regularly is helpful because it makes you feel good about yourself. When you are doing cardiovascular activity, it makes you more tired when it is time to sleep. When you exercise, it also reduces your stress and that will help you feel more relaxed when it is time to sleep.
If you are experiencing insomnia, remember that you need to prepare so that you can interrupt the cycle of sleeplessness. We tend to become angry and more anxious about insomnia but know that it will pass if you work on it with good habits. If you have persistent anxiety and insomnia, it helps to talk to a therapist to discuss your worries so that you can share and feel a sense of relief.
You should also consult a doctor and discuss if it could be helpful to take sleep medication. Clients who have struggled with depression and anxiety have intermittently taken sleep medication to interrupt the cycle so that they could have more sleep and then can go off the medication when they think they can go to sleep on their own. With social media and all the distractions in life, it is no wonder why more people are experiencing insomnia but maintaining good sleep hygiene will help you get the sleep you need.
Anita Barot is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist that provides psychotherapy sessions in Singapore and Bangkok. She has more than 10 years of experience helping children, adults, couples, and families to communicate better, to resolve conflict, and to overcome challenges in their personal and professional lives. To learn more about Anita, please visit www.lotustherapy.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.