As I sit here writing this article, my eyes are framed by dark circles that characterize a common pattern in my life: insomnia. Whether I have trouble getting to sleep in the first place or spend hours awake in the night, insomnia has affected me for as long as I can remember. If you have any measurable amount of stress in your life, I can assume that you too have experienced this disturbance in sleep What to do about insomnia? Well, since I consider myself an expert in this arena, I have some advice that I’ve found to be true over the years.
Guard your mind before you hit the sack. If you’re thinking about stressful matters before you go to bed, your brain won’t stop thinking about them after your eyes close. One night, I balanced my checkbook right before I went to bed … not only did it start a chain of anxious thoughts about my financial situation, but I woke up in the middle of the night with more thoughts about this topic.
– Watch your caffeine consumption. Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it before, but there’s a reason that people drink caffeine to stay awake. If you’re sensitive to this stuff, make sure you don’t consume it too close to bedtime. Also, caffeine can generally whack out your sleep cycle, so even if you fall asleep right away, it can disrupt your larger pattern of sleep to affect any particular night.
– Take advantage of the silence. What do you want to do in the quiet that you can’t do during the day? Sprawl out on the couch that everyone else usually uses. Watch TV and have the remote all to yourself. Make a surprise card or gift for a friend, relative or significant other.
– Meditate on a calming passage of Scripture. It doesn’t necessarily fix everything, but God can use it to ease your mind. My favorite: Philippians 4:6-7. I wrote it out on a piece of paper and taped it to the wall right next to the head of my bed.
– Regardless of your energy level, resist the urge to run around your apartment five times. If you have a lot of energy, the best thing to do is to use it, right? That’ll just rev your body up and tense your muscles so that you’ll have a harder time getting back to sleep.
– Don’t use the time to get work done. School work, work work, even something that requires a lot of concentration—these all will rev up your brain the way physical activity revs up the rest of your body. Therefore, do something that will calm your mind, like reading a relaxing book, doing crossword puzzles or playing solitaire (you knew those computer games had a productive purpose, right?).
– Get regular exercise. Those who exercise will find that they have more regular sleep habits. While it’s not a preventive measure against insomnia, it definitely helps. I have noticed significant differences in my sleep patterns depending on my level of exercise.
– Dress lighter. Better to err on the side of cold when you are sleeping, because we all know the discomfort of being too hot in bed. Once the temperature of your sleeping atmosphere is above 65 degrees, you’ll have a harder time sleeping. You’re less likely to wake up if you are cold than if you are hot.
– Don’t get frustrated by insomnia. Hey, God is there with you. Psalm 121:4-5 says: ”He who watches over you will neither sleep nor slumber. The Lord watches over you.” He created the whole day, and so He’s with you in the night. Ask the Lord if there’s something He wants to do with the time. I’ve had some of my favorite prayer and journaling times at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning when I couldn’t sleep. Believe that God is big enough to use any time of the day for His glory.
I encourage you to ask someone to pray for you, especially if insomnia is a prolonged problem. During one particularly bad bout of insomnia, I didn’t sleep through the night for two weeks. Each night, I was up for at least two hours, and I hesitated to ask anyone for prayer. Finally one night while meeting with my church small group, my leader Liz asked me a simple, “Ali, how are you doing?” I bawled. I was so tired that I couldn’t think anymore, and life just felt miserable. Deal with insomnia if you’re experiencing it. You need to sleep. Goodnight.