Tips to Sleep Better From an Ex-Insomniac

No chamomile tea or lavender oil included.

Don’t you hate it when you have an early morning the next day, but you just can’t fall asleep? Think about having that more than 3 nights a week and for 5 years.

That was me.

My insomnia seemingly came out of nowhere, making it hard for me to fall and stay asleep. When I wake up, it’ll feel like I didn’t even sleep at all. Spotting a tremendous headache throughout the day, it made studying or working very difficult.

I would like to believe that insomnia was probably the reason why I have a poor memory and scored poorly in my college exams too.

After 5 years of studying insomnia through the University of Google, I’ve finally earned my Bachelor’s Degree in How to Sleep Better, majoring in Self-Cure and Home Remedy.

Jokes aside, I’ve tried so many methods and spent so much on products listed in online articles that I finally learned that it wasn’t just about chamomile tea and lavender oil.

To this day, I am still unsure as to why I had insomnia, but I guessed that it was due to many different factors from stress and anxiety to poor daytime and sleeping habits.

The effect of insomnia created a pattern of poor lifestyle choices that in turn, developed a vicious cycle of unrefreshing sleep.

Just like most articles I read, I did manage to improve my insomnia without the help of a sleep therapist or medical prescriptions. All I did was to tackle some of the known underlying causes and made small changes to my daily habits and sleep environment.

In this article, I will be listing all the small changes that I’ve made to my life which combined, significantly helped me to get a better night’s sleep.

1. Sleeping and Waking Up at a Consistent Time

Pick a time to sleep and a time to wake up every day — that includes the weekends. I understand that this can be tough for some people who work shifts and irregular hours. To that, I would suggest sticking to a consistent number of hours of sleep rather than a sleep schedule.

National Sleep Foundation guidelines advise that healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. I found that it was optimal for me to sleep 7 hours, so I built my sleep schedule based on that number.

I aim to be in bed every day by 10:30 pm to give myself ample time to fall asleep, and I wake up every day at 6 am.

“A regular sleep schedule should also be adhered to even on the weekends.”

2. Waking Up Early

I have been waking up at 6 am for a few months now, and it allows me to get some quiet work time before the world is awake and helps me to feel tired by bedtime. Being awake before sunrises also enables me to have more sun exposure throughout the day. This is important and will be elaborated on in point 5.

Waking up early is not for everyone because some people may like to socialise late into the evening and don’t head to bed till 12 am. It all depends on your schedule. So the first point about having a consistent sleep schedule or sleeping the same number of hours every day takes precedence over waking up early.

“A consistent sleep schedule or sleeping the same number of hours every day takes precedence over waking up early.”

But if you could, I would highly recommend you do it.

3. Changing Your Alarm Ringtone

Doctors have mentioned that waking up abruptly with an alarm can actually make us feel even more tired in the morning. But we still have things to do every day, and we can’t afford to oversleep. Even if your body has been regulated to the sleep schedule that you’ve built for yourself, you still want to set the alarm just in case.

I suggest that you switch your alarm ringtone to a slowly increasing light instrumental music which can help you to wake up feeling more refreshed.

I use Sleep Cycle (not sponsored) to not only track my sleep but also as an alarm. They have an array of alarm sounds that is less disruptive to my mornings. Otherwise, you can use “Slow Rise” which is already available on our iPhones. If you are an Android user, I am sure there is an equivalent already available in your list of ringtones.

4. Working Out Every Day

Photo by Isaac Wendland on Unsplash

Since the pandemic, I manage to work-out at home almost every day for at least 30 minutes and find that it makes a drastic impact on my sleep.

I know it sounds really dreadful when all you want to do is to basically, well, sleep. Getting some exercise in your day is supported by the National Sleep Foundation. You just need as little as 10 minutes of aerobic activities, like jogging or cycling, to improve your sleep quality.

5. Getting Some Sun

Try to get some sun exposure during the day as sunlight causes our body to release more serotonin, a chemical precursor to melatonin. Melatonin is a crucial hormone that is produced when it gets dark, which helps with our body’s internal clock and promotes sleep.

This means that getting more serotonin during the day will allow your body to produce more melatonin at night, helping you to fall asleep and have a better night’s rest.

For me, I sit by the window and have natural sunlight shine in throughout the day when I work. Otherwise, I try to take more water breaks by the windows, resting my eyes at the same time.

6. Not Having Caffeine After Noon

I didn’t implement this just recently, I’ve been doing it for a few years after taking note of my caffeine intake and how it affected my sleep. With a few trials and errors, I found that the latest that I can have any caffeinated drinks is 12 pm.

This is because caffeine has a half-life of 5 to 8 hours, which means that it takes that many hours just to reduce half of the amount you’ve consumed. The other half may take a few more hours to leave your body.

So if you take caffeine in the evening, some will still be in your body when it is bedtime. This will decrease the quality of your sleep, and you end up with a restless night.

7. Reducing Blue-Light Exposure

Photo by Maxim Ilyahov on Unsplash

I try to stop using my laptop or tablet before 8 pm, generally 2–3 hours before bed. For my phone, I’ll switch on my red filter at least 1–2 hours before I sleep. As there is no scientific evidence proving that red light or “night mode” on your devices can help minimise blue-light exposure, I try to still reduce the duration of screen time before bed.

But let’s be real here, we live in a digital age, and we aren’t gonna stop using all our devices at like 8 pm. The best alternative is to change the light in our environment by reducing the amount of blue-light exposure in the evening. This is because exposure to light suppresses the production of melatonin.

Switch your main lights off and use a blue-light-free lamp when night falls. I don’t personally own one, but instead, I switch off the main light and turn on multiple small lamps just enough for me to read and write.

8. Lowering Body Temperature

I start preparing myself for bed by taking night showers, usually 2 hours before I sleep, to reduce my body temperature. Many articles would tell you to take warm showers, but I find that taking either warm or cold showers are OK.

This is important because when your body is ready for bed, the body temperature begins to fall to initiate the process for a good night’s sleep.

Other than taking a shower, you can also turn on the fan or sleep with the air-conditioning on.

9. Checking Your Pillow

My pillow kept me up for years. I switched from a memory foam pillow to a soft feathery one, but they all kept me awake because I wasn’t in a comfortable position.

As a petite girl (who can still be mistaken for someone in her tweens), and someone who sleeps on her sides plus belly, regular pillows were too high for me. I’d get neck sores accompanied by my restless sleep.

So one day, I got myself a pillow with a concave centre that was made for children. That’s right, I bought myself a kid’s pillow. The decision to get it was because I needed a pillow that would be thin enough for me to sleep on my belly and still support my neck when I sleep on my sides. Since my shoulders are small, a kid’s pillow was just right for me.

Check your pillow and replace it with one that is suitable for your body size and neck configuration.

10. Having a Pitch Black Room

Fix the light going into your room and the light in your room. Try to make your room as dark as possible when you are ready for bed by having blackout curtains and switching off anything that lits up the room, like a switch.

Otherwise, you can use an eye mask to block out any light.

11. Stretching Before Bed

Photo by Ginny Rose Stewart on Unsplash

I do some slow and light stretches before bed, and sometimes I use a foam roller on my back as well. Stretching helps me to relieve muscle tension and calms my mind, which is a great way to unwind and de-stress at the end of the day.

Stretching for 5 minutes is more than enough. I just hold several static positions like Child’s Pose and Supine Twist for 30 counts before moving to the next pose.

12. Sleeping With Earplugs

Last but not least, and an excellent option for all light sleepers, sleeping with earplugs. This is essential for blocking out loud noises and improving the quality of your sleep by preventing you from waking up while you are sound (pun intended) asleep.

I prefer foam earplugs compared to soft or hard silicone earplugs because the foam material makes it much easier to sleep on my sides. I use Mack’s Original Soft Foam Earplugs (not sponsored), which has a Noise Reduction Rating of 32 decibels.

Sleep is essential for one’s health and well-being.

When you’re asleep, your body works to support, maintain, and repair different parts of your body from your brain to your muscles.

Just making small positive changes to your life can significantly help with insomnia. There are so many more recommendations online like natural herbal teas and weighted blankets, so take your pick and only apply what is suitable for you.

Occasionally, I still do get sleepless nights, mostly when I am going through an emotional rut or I am experiencing hormonal changes related to my menstrual cycle. But overall, I have been sleeping much better with the methods listed above.

If your insomnia is caused by a sleep disorder or mental and physical health issues, please see a doctor. Even though I followed articles online, and I wrote one myself, I was also referred to a doctor at one point in time. If your insomnia is severe, long-term, or is worsening, please make an appointment with a doctor who can work with you to determine the root cause and recommend an ideal treatment for you.

Otherwise, I hope this article has been helpful to you.

Sleep well, my internet friends.

On a journey of self-discovery and leading a life with purpose. Working on becoming more present as I explore, learn, grow and write about it all.

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