Insomnia and Sleeplessness

Image of a lady awake in bed with her husband sleeping peacefully behind her
  • Trouble falling asleep? or staying asleep?
  • Do you wake up throughout the night?
  • Is your mind racing too fast to sleep?
  • Have your sleepless nights impacted your job? Family? Friendships?

Lying awake at night can be infuriating. It can keep you fuming about what happened today, and worrying about what may, or may not, happen tomorrow.

We’ve all been there… you get up in the morning, startled by the alarm; you had finally fallen asleep when it started screaming at you! Grumbling about a terrible night trying to sleep, you stumble to the bathroom, reviewing how angry you are at the things that kept you up: your finances, your boss, your spouse, your kids, your mistakes, your bad luck. And we could probably throw some colorful language in there! You look in the mirror and immediately criticize your appearance. Then you start to “borrow trouble” that hasn’t even happened! You engage in negative fantasies about how your boss will comment on how terrible you look; how this will prevent you from getting that raise or promotion. From there, it seems to only get worse, thereby making it more likely that you’ll have another night of insomnia. You’ll never get caught up.

From time to time, this kind of day is normal. And if it’s pretty rare that you experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, then you can probably handle it pretty well and have a pretty good day after getting your morning coffee and/or workout. But once it’s a pattern, or if it’s a symptom of an underlying emotional condition like anxiety or depression, or a medical one like hypertension or narcolepsy, it seems difficult to pull out of it. Make no mistake, it can turn into a self-perpetuating cycle; and when it does, it can magnify whatever condition is underneath it. So we want to discover some tried and true ways of getting your much-needed sleep again.

How to get more sleep

I am going to list a few things that tend to help most people. In our counseling sessions, we can fine-tune these ideas, and add other ideas when needed.

Healthy Sleep Hygiene

  • Limit caffeine intake. Stop drinking caffeine 4 hours before bed.
  • Turn off “screens” at least 2 hours before bed. This means anything with a screen: Computers, cell phones, tablets, etc. If you enjoy a TV show that happens during the 2 hours before bed, consider recording it and watching it earlier–you’ll get used to it. but if you must watch, try to keep it light . . . not crime TV that elicits anxiety, or News shows that get you riled up.
  • Avoid vigorous exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime.
  • About 15-30 minutes before bedtime, start your Bedtime Routine. It should be the same things, in the same order, at the same time each night (as often as possible, especially in the beginning).
    • What this does is it trains your body and mind that when you do X, Y, and Z, you are preparing for sleep. The routine will become automatic and your body will cooperate; usually within just a few weeks.
  • As a part of your Bedtime Routine, drink a cup of Sleepy Time or Chamomile tea. These both have herbs that promote relaxation. Don’t drink too many cups though, or you’ll have to get up later to use the bathroom.
  • Let the last item of your Bedtime Routine be 3-5 minutes of meditation or relaxation. While these are different, they have enough in common that the brain will respond very well to the time to just unwind. Read more about meditation here.
  • Turn your clock around and/or put it out of reach (same with your cell phone). Very often, we wake up briefly at night to simply roll over or shift around a little bit; if there are big numbers facing you, your pupils will try to focus on these numbers, and this can cause you to wake up more fully. And if you see that it’s 4:00 am, you may start thinking about how soon you have to get up, which can keep you up.
  • Try taking a warm bath before bed. The rapid cooldown of your body after you get out can be very relaxing. Showers tend to wake some people up, but if you like showers, and it works, go for it!
  • Once you are in bed, if you feel like it’s been more than 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing. This prevents you from associating your bed with the aggravation of being in bed asleep. Read a book (NOT on a tablet though. . . the screen stimulates the visual cortex too much and will wake you up more.

Other good ideas to help sleep

  • Exercise during the day! Physical exhaustion during the day helps the body go into a relaxed state at night so that it can repair and recover.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to promote a healthy body and mind. Water is critical in healthy brain function as it is the primary conductor of electricity. Try not to drink too much water an hour or so before bed though.
  • Practice meditation and/or relaxation throughout the day so that you get in the habit of being calm. This calm mindfulness will help you deal with struggles more efficiently so that you carry less stress to bed with you. You can practice this for very brief periods like 30 seconds, or a minute. It’s better than never practicing at all.
  • If you just cannot stop thinking about what you have to do the next day, write a list – get the worries out of your head and onto paper. You can even prioritize these and list specific steps to get each one done.
  • Journal. Get in the habit of writing down how you feel about the day, both good things and bad. This gets those things out of your head and onto paper (like writing your To-Do list).
  • Talk to a counselor. If you are dealing with depression or anxiety, and the work you are doing to recover is not helping sleep, you can talk to your doctor. But be careful, many sleep aids are addictive and do not give you the restorative type of sleep that you need. Let your doctor educate you about your options.
  • As tempting as Marijuana may be to unwind, it does not give you the restorative sleep you need either. Not to mention, it effectively shuts down the dreaming center of the brain, so you are not able to process your day as well. Dreaming helps us work through our daily stress. When people stop smoking pot, they often report VERY vivid dreams–this is because the dreaming center of the brain is coming back online, and it seems much more vivid for a while.
  • Likewise, avoid excessive alcohol before bed.

We can talk about the many other ideas to try in-session. Very often, people find that just practicing a few of these ideas can help instead of doing all of them!

Learn more about Stress Management Counseling in Austin.

Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan has completed Level-2 of the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, and in 1998 received training by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.

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