An Insomniac’s Guide to Insomnia
Hi, I’m Louise, I’m twenty-four, and I never fucking learned how to sleep!
For as long as I can remember being alive, I can remember long nights staring into the blackness of sleeplessness and wondering what the trick was that I was just apparently born sans. I honestly couldn’t figure it out – why could other people just go to bed, lie down, and pretty much go to sleep?
As I got older, the insomnia got a lot worse – it went from tossing and turning but managing to get a little rest, to periods of three weeks or longer where I wouldn’t sleep more than an hour a night. I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with long-term insomnia, but it honestly makes you feel as though you are going insane: the whole world folds into pinprick tunnel vision, and you’re ability to make reasoned choices or do things with any semblance of skill or ability just vanishes at once. For me, at its worst, insomnia was genuinely debilitating. I was constantly low-level sick with no appetite, I could hardly make it to my university classes, and when I did, I would sit there with a pounding head unable to focus on anything that was being said. Heaven help anyone who ran into me during this time, when I would probably try to drink your blood to get some of your special sleeping powers, while mumbling about something I watched last night that I was somewhat convinced had actually happened in real life.
Anyway. Aside from my intensely amusing stories about all those times I missed the couch sitting down and twisted my ankle and ruined my summer because I was too tired to see straight, I figured that I would share with you some of the ways I’ve been trying to combat it in the last few years. Because, don’t get me wrong, sleeping pills are proof of a benevolent God, but there’s only so much I can stagger around after taking them like a washed-up Vaudeville actress trying to get to bed, you know?
I’m going to breeze right on by the basic stuff – you know, have a hot drink before bed, don’t drink caffeine after three, make sure your bedroom isn’t too hot or too cold. Those are tips for the amateur insomniac, also known as the person I envy most in the world. These tips are for my die-hard, wide-eyed, comrades in chronic insomnia. Let’s get into the hardcore stuff, shall we?
Firstly, exercise. Look, yes, I see that this is an obvious one, but hear me out. I have found that consistently switching up the workouts that I do day to day has really helped keep my body exhausted enough to force sleep at the end of the day. For a couple of months, running every day was enough of a shock to my system to tire me out. When my body started to get used to that, I moved on to HIIT and strength training – after that, I just did long walks and yoga every day. As your body gets used to something, it’s going to need less time and effort to recover from it, which is the direct opposite of what we want. Corner your body! Make it your bitch! Surprise it with dance zumba classes, probably!
Get yourself a routine in place. And I MEAN that. I am a deeply boring person now because I will not stay out past nine in the evening, and even that’s pushing it, to be honest. I find that sort of beating my body and mind into submission has been the best course of action for me, and that involves picking a time to start my bedtime routine and committing to it. I would love to be one of those people who does this luxurious bedtime skincare/self-care/meditation/yoga routine, but truthfully, I need to keep it simple so that I can do it even when I’m short on time or feeling too low-energy to commit to it.
Currently, my bedtime routine features: washing my face, hugging my boyfriend and cat, doing a quick yoga video (Yoga with Adriene is my go-to) and then heading straight to bed. It’s something I can manage even when I feel like I have had my motivation surgically removed, and it’s short enough that I can convince myself to do it even when I just want to go to bed. Don’t let the lure of sexy parties or fun nights out lie to you; plan all your social occasions in the middle of the day. Only attend establishments that close by six. Cut your friends out of your life! For sleep! For sweet, sweet lady sleep!
The biggest thing that has made the difference with my insomnia is addressing a lot of the anxiety that comes with it. There’s something uniquely infuriating about not being able to get to sleep; it’s like sitting in front of a full cooked breakfast when you’re starving and not being able to remember how to eat. This is a basic human function, you tell yourself as you lie there awake in the middle of the night, and why can’t you do it?
And yeah, it is wildly frustrating, and it’s really easy to fall into this heavy self-flagellation that’s only going to serve to make it harder for you to sleep. I am fundamentally opposed to the notion of positive self-talk for myself (but that’s a whole other article), but truthfully, being able to stop and go “LOOK YOU DUMB BITCH YOU’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE ANYTHING BETTER YELLING AT YOURSELF INSIDE YOUR OWN HEAD” has been helpful for me. Apps like Headspace (which has a lot of useful insomnia tools) have short meditations which have been invaluable in forcing me to stop, slow down, and cease the rushing overthinking that keeps me up all night long.
If you deal with insomnia, please drop your handling techniques in the comments below – I do not lie when I say that I am always looking for new ways to address this garbage problem, and I’d bet the same goes for a lot of people reading this article. If you liked this article and want to see more stuff like it, go ahead and check out my series on OCD, and please consider supporting me on Patreon!