I use the term insomnia lightly, but falling asleep easily has never been my niche. I’m FOREVER whinging about being exhausted, yet once my head hits my pillow, my mind tends to race. I’ve literally had issues with sleep since primary school, but in the last year or two my sleeping pattern has somewhat improved, and that’s undoubtedly down to a few key adjustments.
A Pharmer’s Journal reader recently asked for advice on dealing with insomnia (I’m presuming pharmaceutical related advice!), but to be honest the vast majority of sleeping tablets (actually all if you live in Ireland) are available only with a prescription. Should you resort to such lengths and see a doctor, you’ll actually want to appear pretty uninformed about sedatives (seriously!). To appear in the know will only ring alarm bells and create the illusion of a drug abuser! Although there’s nothing I can tell you that google won’t explain more eloquently!
And so leaving all the benzos aside, your ‘over the counter’ remedies take on two routes; either herbal medicines (think the likes of valerian, hops, white chestnut), or drowsy antihistamines. The two most popular OTC remedies are probably Kalms Night (valerian) and Bachs Rescue Sleep (white chestnut). If you’re struggling to sleep it’s definitely worth giving these a try – They work amazingly for some people, especially if you’re battling mild sleeplessness rather than chronic insomnia. (To be honest, they rarely do the trick for me, although I do find Bachs Rescue Remedy great when I’m stressed out for anxiety rather than sleep deprived.)
If you’re UK-based and battling insomnia, medicines like 5HTP and melatonin are licensed and available from health food shops, if not pharmacies. I definitely bought 5HTP before in Holland and Barrett (if not melatonin) when I lived in Scotland. Unforch melatonin/5HTP has yet to be licensed for Irish shores. Actually you can buy them from iherb (an online health shop which I find fantastic), so I guess you can always source it that way should you wish…
In my experience, both melatonin and 5HTP help with inducing sleep, BUT I found they cause extremely lucid dreams (which is a common side effect!)… This sounds no biggie in theory but in reality vivid nightmares will result in you waking up absolutely drained.
Many pharmacists recommend drowsy anti-histamines for the short-term treatment of insomnia. Active ingredients such as Diphenhydramine (found in products such as Benylin Original Cough Bottle) and Chlorphenamine (Piriton) are old-school sedating antihistamines which cause drowsiness as a side effect. Disclaimer! – Obviously it goes without saying that if you’re on other medication double-check with a doctor/pharmacist for interactions, obv same goes for melatonin/5HTP… I digress; Drowsy anti-histamines will work as a sleep inducing remedy for most people, although they often result in you ‘groggy’ feeling upon wakening which obvz isn’t ideal either… They’re definitely more of a ‘means to an end’ rather than a long-term solution to sleepless nights.
On to ‘Sleep Hygiene’ – and in my opinion this is key to getting a decent night’s snooze. There’s all the obvious ones – avoid caffeine after lunchtime, no television in bed, keeping to a bedtime routine, use black out blinds, blah blah blah… These are all boring but all true.
But now for my own personal hacks!
The most altering of adjustments which has helped me switch off is keeping my phone well away from me in bed (and sans internet)…
As a student I slept (or rather didn’t sleep) exclusively with my phone under my pillow, said phone acting as my alarm clock, watch, radio and all around extra limb; forever attached. This all changed when I went through a particularly dire stage of insomnia two years ago and had to basically overhaul every habit of mine. I now leave my phone charging at the bedroom door, with most importantly – the wifi and mobile data switched off. Therefore I get no whatsapps/app alerts/emails etc. ’til the following morning – Life-changing! This one change literally makes such a noticeable difference. It’s also great for helping ya getting up in the morning, as you’ve no alerts to check!
But most importantly with this one is the subsequent inability to check the time. Normally at night I’m automatically counting down the hours left to sleep, resulting in waves of anxiety and panic. No phone = No clock.
Next tip: I discovered the This Works: Deep Sleep Pillow Spray last year and have never looked back. I’m absolutely addicted to it, and use it nightly (and daily when needs be!). Check out this post for my full review, but long story short; It’s amaze. Once the lights are out, my boudoir converts into a tranquil spa, and whilst it may not be a tranquilizer, it’s definitely a relaxant. Love! Oh and keep an eye out for Boots’ Black Friday sale (November 27th), I picked up a Deep Sleep Pillow Spray for next to nowt in last year’s sale!
Always, always make your bed properly – This sounds ridic but I honestly can’t switch off if my bedclothes are lumpy! An amazing hack I learned from a friend in college (a complete pisshead who more than likely changed his bedclothes annually) is to sprinkle your bed linen with talc whilst dressing it. I now always do this in between changing my sheets, and it honestly makes such a difference. Try it! Johnson’s have a gorge lavender and chamomile talc which I love. Christ Almighty what have I become.
In keeping with the fragrancy vibe, aromatherapy is key to me switching off at night. I LOVE fragrances – I love candles and perfumes and all that malarkey, BUT I never really had much faith in aromatherapy as a treatment. However my boyfriend on the other hand is a horticulturist and got me in on the vibe. I work long hours, (55 hours last week for example!), and so it can be hard to switch off once I’m home from work. Burning essential oils has become an habitual essential for me now; I get home from work, drop my handbag, switch the kettle on and light a candle. Now don’t set your hopes too cray high – As with the aforementioned pillow spray, an essential oil isn’t going to sedate you per say, but it should help you relax, and with routine comes habit, and habit comes (fingers crossed!) less insomnia. My favourite oils to burn are eucalyptus and lavender as both are so relaxing. But I literally have a million; I love peppermint, orange, vanilla, jasmine – The list is endless.
Caffeine is an obvious stimulant, and I aim to avoid it after lunch if possible. I love coffee, I go through phases of drinking it by the bucket-load, and it definitely affects my sleep. Yesterday (Sunday) for example, I had so much to do and was feeling fragile and exhausted apres Saturday night. I subsequently had coffee with breakfast, cappuccinos with lunch, a frappe in town and then another coffee before going for dinner. Plus you can throw a few mugs of tea in there also for good measure. Did I sleep well last night?! No!
And so (midweek anyway), I have only one coffee a day, and never after 2pm (ish). I try to drink herbal teas instead, which I actually love anyway so ’tis grand. Right now I’m having a cup of Twinings Sleep tea, (which isn’t my favourite but it’ll do)… Herbal tea serves two sleep-inducing purposes – By switching to it from coffee/regular tea you’re obviously reducing your daily caffeine intake, and also the aromatherapy hit you get from it! I tend to recommend herbal tea whenever suitable as a natural remedy for a lot of ailments at work, for example drinking peppermint tea for sensitive stomachs etc.
My two final tricks for sleepless nights are as follows, 1: Reading something lighthearted (without checking the clock!), and 2: Mindfulness. If I’m getting nowhere fast and my mind is doing ninety worrying about everything and anything, I start reading. I recommend something easy-going and positive (Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me springs to mind)…
I simply start reading, and ban myself from checking the clock. It’s impossible to read (properly) and stress over something else at the same time, and so by focusing on something lighthearted, I’m instantly less anxious.
Finally, without getting too Dr Phil on you, by mindfulness I moreso mean to remind yourself that ‘This Too Shall Pass’…
It’s all too easy to get caught up in the anxiety ridden cycle of counting down the sleepless hours alongside the fear of tomorrow’s unproductivity. When these trail of thoughts enter my psych, I simple remind myself that I’ve functioned many a day on feck all sleep – The world didn’t end, life very much went on and I very much survived. Simples. Que weight being lifted off ones shoulders and being one step closer to sleepy times.
Night Night x x