My sister and I shared a bedroom at the top of the stairs. We usually slept with the door closed, but I could still hear my mom padding down the hall in the middle of the night. Unlike my dad who slept like the dead, my mom was wide awake from midnight till morning.
When we went downstairs, we would find her sitting at the big, oak dining room table drinking her coffee and reading the paper she had spread out across it.
We were typically greeted with, “Hi girls, how did you sleep?”
“Fine” was our teenage, flat response, but none of my siblings or I ever thought to ask how she’d slept in return. Probably because we all knew she never did.
We just accepted my mother’s insomnia as a part of who she was, but my mom knew the value of sleep and I think deep down, she knew it would eventually catch up to her. Maybe that’s why she tried her best to teach us how important a full night’s sleep was. She believed a solid eight hours was the cure for almost everything.
Like most moms of five, we kept her busy. She was the one we went to when we were sick or needed some solid encouragement. From cramps to Mono, failure to heartache her answer was always the same.
“You just need more sleep honey. Now go curl up and take a short nap. You’ll feel so much better afterwards.”
Back then we all thought her advice oversimplified things, but today we realize she was probably right.
Studies have shown that lack of sleep can have a negative impact on everything we do from taking tests to winning marathons. Without enough sleep, we are more likely to gain weight, have higher blood pressure, experience a lack of memory and rational thought, and even make ourselves more susceptible to serious illnesses like cancer. Getting a solid 7-8 boosts our immunity and is one of the most powerful ways for us to stay healthy.
Yet, I never gave much thought to my mom’s struggle with insomnia until I started experiencing it myself. After having a baby, I rarely got more than 4 hours of broken sleep, and my daughter is in her mid-twenties. Like my mom, I used to wake up in the middle of the night replaying the previous day in my head or ruminating over the stupidest things.
When my girls were little, I would go for a 2 am run, do a couple loads of laundry and head to work by 8:00am. Later, like my mom, I would read a good book, but those began to make matters worse so I started to watch old reruns that would eventually lull me back to sleep.
When my mom roamed the house, sleep cures were far and few between, but today the sleep business is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Mattresses alone account for over $27 billion each year and every day brings another tonic, another pillow, another miracle “cure” for insomnia.
Over the years, I have tried them all. From Ambien to Melatonin, sleep teas to sleep patches. I probably could have retired by now with the money I’ve spent on products designed to help me sleep thru the night.
What’s worse is just when I thought I was getting a hold of things…
Hello Covid, war, and more mass shootings!
There are so many reasons so many of us are struggling with insomnia these days.
The flood of bad news is enough to keep even the solid sleepers up feeling worried and anxious. Two ingredients that create the perfect cocktail for a perfectly sleepless night.
But when the going gets tough…the tough must sleep. After years of laying awake worrying about all the things I have no control of, I have been on a mission to make sleep my main priority.
I have done plenty of research over the years and I have learned that just like the perfect body a permanent cure for insomnia does not come in a bottle. The only way to cure it comes from intense training or the re-training of our brains. Just like physical exercise, it takes a lot of patience and a healthy, consistent routine practiced over time to reap the rewards.
This is important because just like working out, it’s easy to quit, especially if results don’t happen fast, but if you are serious about sleeping then start here. Sleep training is brain training and that takes some discipline. Remember that when you give these methods a try.
An Insomniac’s Top 6 Habits For a Good Night’s Sleep
Take at least ten minutes per day to meditate. Training yourself to clear the chatter in your head and focus on the present is the only way your brain will allow you to rest at night. There are tons of apps and sites to help you start so don’t go it alone. Just remember once you start try to keep it up. Be patient and kind with yourself and start with short intervals if ten minutes feels too much at first. I promise, meditation is the best, most proven cure for insomnia and so many other things we are dealing with lately. Carve out time every day to do it and watch your perspective change, your emotions level off and your sleep improve.
Physical exercise is crucial for sleep so make sure you get a good 30 minutes per day. Take a brisk walk, do some HIIT or better yet, practice Yoga. An active body helps to relieve an over-active mind and an early morning workout will jump start your metabolism and energize your day. If a morning workout isn’t possible, try to do it at lunch or right after work but never workout too close to bedtime. Exercising late can disrupt your sleep so aim to be done a good two hours before you head to bed.
3. MIND YOUR DIET
Stop eating anything 3 hours before bedtime. Make sure to avoid chocolate and caffeine 8 hours before you plan to sleep and cut back your sugar intake throughout the day. Giving up those chocolate, salted caramels is tough, I know… but that could be the culprit to your sleepless nights. Are you taking any supplements? They may seem benign but taking some vitamins at the wrong time of day can really mess with your sleep. Make sure you know what’s in your multi-vitamin and be sure your prescription medications aren’t the culprits causing your insomnia.
4. WARM UP INSIDE & OUT
Drink some warm, decaffeinated tea an hour before bedtime. Still restless? Then take a cool shower. Over time a cool shower decreases the cortisol in our bodies and tricks our brain into warming us up. It is a great way to relax and five minutes is all you need to chill out.
5. STICK TO A FIXED WAKE-UP TIME
A fixed wake-up time is key to falling asleep and staying asleep every night. Sleeping in an extra hour or two on a Saturday is like going to bed an hour or two earlier at night. Your desire to sleep wanes and in order to sleep well at night, we need to build the desire to sleep while we’re awake during the day. This desire builds up, so when we shorten it by sleeping in, that only makes it harder for us to fall asleep the next night. So get up buttercup and seize the day. You’ll be grateful you did when you’re drifting off to dreamland the next evening, and the next, and the next…
6. STAY FOCUSED
Sometimes when we turn off the light, our brains will still reactivate so do a little math to calm yourself down. Print out a Sudoku puzzle or nab an elementary math work book. Stimulating our prefrontal cortex takes the focus away from the area in our brain called the amygdala that controls our anxiety. Maybe that explains why I always fell asleep in Algebra?
Finally, I am not a fan of taking a phone to bed but if you still have trouble quieting your mind, download podcasts during the day that can help you fall asleep at night. I like bedtime stories like Nothing Much Happens or Headspace’s Sleep SOS for guided sleep meditations.
Combining all these methods has been a game changer for me.
I am slowly training my brain and learning that what I do during the day has everything to do with how I sleep at night.
Of course, if these methods don’t give you some eventual relief seek professional help from your doctor or a licensed therapist, but whatever you do, don’t wait.
As usual, my mom was right. Every night of lost sleep takes its toll on us mentally and physically so treating insomnia should be our number one priority.
Try one or all methods and if you’re like me, you’ll be off to dreamland in no time.
– Germaine Caprio, MAJAMAS EARTH Company Owner & Designer
Let ME know:
What helps you have a good snooze?
Please share your own thoughts with us – let’s get a conversation started in the comments below!