9 Things That Actually Helped My Lifelong Insomnia and Sleepwalking Issues
If you asked me five months ago when I last got a perfect eight hours of sleep, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you.
I’ve struggled with insomnia and sleepwalking issues for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I would be able to fall asleep without any problems, but then I'd find myself waking up in the middle of the night, in a random spot in my house, from bumping into a wall or tripping over an object while sleepwalking. Scary, I know.
During my school years, I would pull consecutive all-nighters and survive on as little as two hours of sleep per night – no coffee needed. Now as an adult, not only do I find it difficult to fall asleep, but my body clock naturally wakes me up at 3am. I’ll lie in bed restless for hours during the night, and then just when I’m falling into that deep sleep my actual alarm will blast off.
I’ve seen experts about my ongoing sleep problems, tried fancy sleep gadgets like weighted blankets and even dipped my toes into expensive sleep vitamins. Unfortunately, none of these were long-term fixes – or financially sustainable – and so I just put up with my condition.
It wasn’t until the end of 2020, when I started to spend my days feeling groggy, lethargic and burnt out, that I knew I needed to take control of my sleep and find a solution that worked for me.
Over the past few months, I’ve experimented with meditation, yoga, bedtime stretches, breathing exercises, and more, in a quest to solve my sleep issues. Through all this, I’ve pinpointed nine things that have immensely improved my sleep problems and transformed my energy levels during the day.
While I must admit I do still have the occasional restless nights, I wake up feeling energised and refreshed more days than not, which is a huge achievement for me. Fingers crossed they do the same for you.
9 things that actually helped my insomnia
1. No screens one hour before bedtime
I know, I know, you’ve heard this rule over and over again. But take advice from someone who takes their laptop to bed every single night to work and then afterward, binge watches a few episodes on Netflix. It’s. A. Bad. Habit.
Turning off all screens one hour before bedtime was the first step I took to fixing my sleep problems - and unfortunately, as much as I dislike admitting it, it really does work. Studies have proven time and time again that the blue light emitted from screens blocks your sleep hormone melatonin, which is why you might find it difficult to fall and stay asleep.
It’s a hard habit to break, but make it a strict rule to not bring your work to bed (or turn on the TV or scroll through social media on your phone) and you’ll be thanking me later.
2. Read a book
OK, no screens in bed, so what do you do instead? May I suggest picking up a book? Although I may not always show it, I am naturally someone who stresses every second of every day (does anyone else’s thoughts keep them up at night?) and I regularly suffer from anxiety, which is why reading has helped me immensely.
Stress is the driving factor of insomnia and reading has been proven to reduce stress and tension. Essentially, it signals your body to relax. In fact, a study by the University of Sussex found reading to be the best stress-reducing method compared to listening to music, drinking tea and taking a stroll. It only took the study’s participants a short six minutes for their stress levels to be reduced by an astounding 68 per cent.
If you’re on TikTok, you may have seen this simple hack circulating your feed.
Doctor Jess Andrade, a third-year paediatric resident doctor who goes by the username @DoctorJesss, posted a video on February 9 explaining how she often wears socks to bed at night and has found it to hugely benefit her sleep habits.
"Wearing socks makes your feet warm up and this opens up the blood vessels that cool the body down," Andrade. "The body being cool tells the brain that it's time for bed. So actually people that wear socks tend to fall asleep faster."
While this hack did cause some controversy with some arguing wearing socks “overheats” them and makes them feel “claustrophobic”, it worked for me. I found it helps me doze off quicker and I'm able to sleep through the night - no disturbances.
This is backed up by a 2006 study published in the Physical Behaviour Journal that found “sleep-onset was accelerated by [wearing] warm and neutral bed socks after lights-off and correlated to the increase in foot temperature.”
4. Drink herbal tea
Sipping on tea has been a nighttime ritual of mine for many years. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, sleep disorders are usually attributed to an imbalance of yin and yang within the body. To explain a little further, oversleeping is a yang deficiency, while insomnia is a yin deficiency that’s associated with stress and poor circulation.
So, drinking a tea high in yin like Chrysanthemum can help eliminate insomnia, thus making you sleep better. On nights when I’m feeling too energised and need an added boost of calm, I steep my tea with a few red jujubes or goji berries, which are also high in yin.
5. Lavender essential oil
I invested in a diffuser and a bottle of lavender oil a few months ago, and using them has now become part of my nightly routine. I turn my diffuser on before stepping into the shower an hour before turning off the lights, so by the time I hop into bed my senses are immersed in a room that smells like a fresh field of lavenders.
Studies have shown that when used an hour or so before bed, lavender oil can not only help you fall asleep, but it can also improve the overall quality of rest (hello, deep sleep!) so you wake up feeling extra refreshed.
6. Sedative music
I ditched my R&B and Pop music before bed for a good sleep playlist on Spotify. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found older adults who listened to music experienced significantly better sleep quality than those who didn’t listen to music, and those who listened to sedative music experienced a greater improvement in sleep quality than those who listened to more rhythmic music.
While the study’s participants were specifically “older adults” and I wouldn’t necessarily label 25 “old” (although my emerging forehead wrinkles say otherwise), I must admit pre-bedtime slow and meditative beats really do lull you into a relaxed trance. There are a wealth of perfect sleep playlists on Spotify like 'Deep Sleep' and 'Sleep', which I swear by.
7. Gua sha therapy
Gua sha has recently become a popular beauty trend in the western world, but the tool and its benefits stem from Traditional Chinese Medicine, which have been used for hundreds of years.
A study published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Tuina Science found the practice of Gua sha therapy (scraping a flat, rounded tool, usually made of jade, across the skin) promotes better sleep, improves the blood supply of the brain, and alleviates symptoms such as dizziness, distention of the head and dream-disturbed sleep.
I do gua sha on my face in the shower, press-stroking the forehead, cheekbones, lips, throat and jawline about eight times in each direction, then down (never upwards) the neck to drain. In bed, I’ll gua sha from my forehead back through the hair - which is said to not only stimulate drowsiness but also promote hair growth - and across my chest to help stimulate blood flow and energy around the heart and lungs.
Not everyone needs eight hours of sleep. Let me repeat that: not everyone needs eight hours of sleep – in fact, we all need a different amount of sleep depending on several factors.
I used to get extremely frustrated if I didn’t hit the eight-hour count after listening to sedative music, diffusing oils, reading a book and so forth. After all, I was doing everything right so why was insomnia still haunting me?
However, I slowly learnt that eight hours isn’t my ideal number. Factors such as genetics, age, underlying health issues, and environmental and behavioural changes will determine exactly how much sleep your body needs to undergo proper rest and repair during the night. For me, that magic number is between 6.5-7 hours, so work out what yours is.
9. Accept that recovery will always be a work in progress
Although I’m sleeping better than ever before, know that my sleep routine is still imperfect. I still have restless nights (some weeks more than others), but I’ve learnt how to deal with my tired state (no coffee needed) and I know the following night I’ll be able to get better snooze because it’s all part of the process.
We’re all hustling to eat healthily, fit in exercise, perform well at work, juggle our social life, look after our family and get enough sleep during the night so we don’t wake up feeling like the world is going to implode - but the fact is that ‘perfection’ doesn’t exist and we’re all a work in progress.
If I’ve learnt anything over the past few months, it’s to not put that pressure on yourself to be ‘perfect’ because this will only lead to more stress and anxiety. And lastly, please, please, please invest more effort into nighttime self-care. After all, you truly deserve it.
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