Insomnia.. where do I start?! It’s crazy that something as natural as sleep seems to be slowly getting more and more difficult for us humans. Insomnia rates in the UK were already high at 1 in 6 but, according to the Guardian, since the start of the COVID19 pandemic this has increased to 1 in 4. There are so many articles out there giving tips on how to wind down at night and get a good nights’ sleep. I even wrote a post last year about dealing with sleep disturbances and how to create a calming evening routine to help you fall asleep fast. I still think this is very relevant and definitely a good place to start for anyone struggling with insomnia. But something that I have been thinking about lately is that getting a good nights’ sleep actually starts in the morning.
What do I mean by this? I mean that if you are spending all day in high-alert stress mode, an evening routine can only do so much. Sure it will help you to relax and calm down but for some people it isn’t enough. Especially for those who have been struggling with insomnia for a long time, or for those who are struggling with early waking insomnia where you might have no problem falling asleep but can’t seem to stay asleep. This was exactly the problem I had, I would always fall asleep within minutes of getting into bed as I was so exhausted. But no matter how tired I was I would wake up between 2 and 4am and lie awake for hours on end, feeling tired and wired. Or if I did sleep through the night, my sleep would be so restless and unrefreshing that I’d still feel like a zombie the next day. If you are currently going through this, I totally understand how frustrating it can be but trust me, it can get better!
So back to how getting a good nights’ sleep starts in the morning. The way we start our day and how we think and act during the day is extremely important for being able to relax and sleep at night. Nowadays we have so many things in our lives that cause stress, whether we realise it or not. This includes obvious things like a stressful, high-pressure job, financial worries, family or relationship issues but it also could be “normal” day to day things like the news, technology and social media, excessive productivity or too much caffeine. We have so much information at our fingertips and it can be easy to become overwhelmed. Emails, notifications, news alerts all come directly to our phones meaning that we are switched on at all times. There is always something to respond to, something new to read, listen to or do.
With technology helping us, the pace of life and work is so much faster. We can achieve so much more in a day than in the past when if you wanted to speak to someone you had to call them or send a fax. And if you needed information you had to walk to the file room to search for it rather than a quick search on an online data base. These things are great but what is it doing to our minds now that we can easily send 10 emails in an hour whilst simultaneously searching for an answer on Google the minute a question pops into our heads? We are thinking so much faster but less deeply. We are becoming like machines. The phrase “continuous partial attention” was developed by Linda Stone over 20 years ago for this state of being hyper-connected and constantly scanning for something to respond to. She explains really well in her article the difference between simple multi-tasking, with comes from a desire to be more productive, and continuous partial attention which is driven by a fear of missing out.
Continious partial attention damages our ability to concentrate on one thing and in the long term it puts you in fight or flight mode, increasing stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline that can affect your ability to sleep. Especially if you are a hard worker or a perfectionist, you can easily fall into the trap of doing too much. Maybe you are jumping from one productive activity to the next without taking a breath in between or juggling multiple activities at once. It could be work tasks like trying to write a report whilst responding to emails but also more fun things like listening to podcasts and reading articles. These tasks need a lot of focus and uses a huge amount of brain power to focus on multiple things at once, putting us into a state of high-alert.
If you feel like you are constantly in vigilant mode and struggle to concentrate on a task without your brain wandering and seeking other activities or distractions.. this could be you! Maybe you feel this constant sense of urgency, like you have to rush all of your tasks for no reason. Maybe you have a heaviness in your chest, your breathing is shallow or you find yourself holding your breath. Maybe you feel like if you’re not productive you are losing time. If you spend your day in this non-stop whirlwind of doing, is it any wonder why it’s difficult to fall asleep at night? You might be reading this and thinking you don’t have this problem but you still can’t sleep, and maybe that’s true and this isn’t the message for you. But I am sure I’m not the only one who was living this way.
In my experience, a huge key in overcoming insomnia and getting a good nights’ sleep is slowing down. This means moving more slowly throughout your day, starting from how you wake up in the morning. If this feels relevant for you and you want my advice, I’ll leave you with my top tips for how to overcome insomnia and get a good nights’ sleep:
- Let your body and mind wake up gently with a calming morning routine. Try to leave your phone alone for the first hour of the day and let the news, emails and any other tasks wait.
- MEDITATE. I can’t stress this one enough. You don’t need to do anything fancy, just set a timer for 5-20 minutes and sit quietly. If you can’t do it, great, that’s a good sign that you need it! With regular practice you can train your brain to settle, relax and focus.
- Block out times in your calendar for tasks and try to focus on one thing at a time and not multi-task unless it’s for very simple tasks. Turn off your notifications and keep your phone away from you as every interruption and distraction adds stress to your system. You can set times during the day to check in rather than being available at all times.
- Take your time and notice if the need to rush comes up. Value your health and happiness over productivity. You might actually find you get more done as your mind will be clearer when you are more relaxed
- Plan regular breaks throughout your day to check in with how you’re feeling, connect with your breath and maybe go outside or move your body to let go of any built up tension
Over to you…
I hope you found this article interesting and feel inspired to give these tips a go. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences, I’d love to hear from you.
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