From an early age, I struggled with sleeping.
I have a vivid memory of being eight years old, thoughts flying through my head and asking my cousin how to fall asleep,
“Just close your eyes, and it will happen.”
Unfortuantely, it didn’t just “happen” for me. Part of this was due to the religious trauma and abuse I endured, with thoughts of armageddon and nightmares of the world ending happening almost every single night. Even when I walked away from the religion and began to heal, insomnia and struggle to sleep didn’t leave.
My days were incredibly long in my early adult life. I would go to my classes, work restaurant shifts on my feet, fall into bed exhausted but unable to sleep, and then do it all again.
For years I just dealt with the restless nights, and then I began drinking/going out to party with friends. Yet even drinking wouldn’t knock me out; I would be the last one standing, always dreading the inevitable bedtime when I would toss and turn.
Unisons, benedryl, a brief rendezvous with Ambien (I could have been addicted to that in a SECOND), meditations, working out every day for hours, I tried it all.
Here is what finally started to help. I am not a perfect sleeper (I will always struggle), but I have made changes to see drastic improvements over the last few years.
#1. Limiting/cutting out caffeine anytime after 1:00 PM
For years I worked in the restaurant industry, and to survive doing up to twelve-hour shifts (doubles!) in a day, my coworkers and I would be pounding coffee & energy drinks.
Although my body would be exhausted at the end of the shift, my mind would keep racing for hours after getting home and trying to go to bed.
These days I try to keep all caffeine intake below noon, typically only 1–2 cups of coffee max. If I’m exhausted/struggling to get through an afternoon, I may have a low-caffeine tea, but that’s the max. My sleep DRASTICALLY improved after making this change, and I believe it was the primary cause of my sleeping issues throughout my twenties.
#2. Swap over the over-the-counter sleeping pills for natural alternatives
After struggling to sleep for as long as I could remember, there came a point when I didn’t care what it was; I just needed something to work.
My lack of care made me purchase random over-the-counter pills to try sleeping. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t, but I had an assortment I would try.
Here is the real issue. Sleeping pills are meant to be used temporarily, but people typically use them every night. Med won’t fix the underlying reason why you can’t sleep.
I ditched the over-the-counter meds. Now, on nights when I’m struggling or need to wind down, I will take a trusted brand such as Winged Wellness.
#3. Start reading a (not too interesting!) book after watching a show to wind me down
People keep saying not to watch TV before bed, but it’s unrealistic for most of us to follow that (admittedly sound) advice.
So, instead of telling myself I won’t watch TV, I will watch an episode of a show if I’m going through a series and then read a book until I’m tired enough to try to sleep.
The key here is to find a good but not TOO exciting book to where you can’t put it down and stay reading all night.
#4. Schedule workouts earlier in the day instead of late at night
Everyone says that working out is a great way to ensure you sleep at night… but I will add that it must be a few hours before bed.
If you’re working out in the later evening, you will get your body/blood pumping, and it’s proven that it will affect your sleep.
If you don’t get a workout, try pilates or yoga/low impact instead of a full-on cardio and strength workout.
No matter what, sleep can be ever elusive. However, you can take steps to improve your sleep quality moving forward. It truly impacts every facet of our health and well-being, so taking the time to figure out what works for you and how you can improve it is worth the time investment.