Let’s start by acknowledging the obvious, insomnia can be deeply unpleasant. You’ve got work at eight in the morning, yet you find yourself tossing and turning at half past two. The glances at the alarm clock begin as do the calculations of the remaining time left to sleep. The hours of possible rest continue to diminish each time you check the clock. Rumination kicks in and you can’t let go of a past regret that continues to haunt you. Your heart races as you continue to clench your eyes shut in hope that your mind follows suit. And you wonder, how do I cope with this?
Ask yourself: is what I'm thinking about urgent?
Perhaps that heated argument with your coworker has left you with feelings of frustration and sadness. It’s tempting to start ruminating about the clever things you could have said at the time. The risk of doing this is to be left even more frustrated than before. Perhaps a more fruitful use of time is to ask yourself: does this problem require my attention at three AM? In the overwhelming majority of cases, the answer is ‘no’. Your brain is likely exhausted from overthinking and any decisions you make at this time will not necessarily reflect how you feel the next morning.
Draw boundaries with rumination
If you have the propensity to ruminate, it’s best to embrace rather than resist this truth about yourself. It’s completely okay to continue to ruminate, but you can decide when you ruminate. One strategy that may work is journaling at a specific time every day. This will help to get all your what-if thoughts analyzed on paper well before bedtime. By creating a structure for your mind, you can manage your thoughts rather than have your thoughts manage you.
Let go of the attachment to sleep
This may sound counter-intuitive but letting go of your desire to sleep is helpful when experiencing a sleepless night. The constant checking of time adds to the stress that is keeping you up in the first place! By reducing your overall stress, you will be more likely to sleep. And even if you don’t get as much sleep as you’d like, at least your remaining hours awake will be more pleasant. This will help you feel more well-rested the next morning.
Do something mindless before bedtime
The closing hour of your day is a time to unwind. Whether it’s watching a reality TV show, a soap opera or playing a video game, find what works for you. In a hustle culture world, it may seem radical to spend an hour relaxing but this is precisely what is needed to calm the mind before bedtime. Ironically, relaxation may lead to better sleep which will boost productivity the very next day.
Take good care of yourself
There is no substitute for living a healthy lifestyle. This includes taking care of our physical and mental health. A set bedtime and routine will signal to the mind that it is time to switch off. Daily exercise and meditation naturally calm the mind to help boost rest. For chronic worriers, starting a gratitude journal can help condition the mind to start seeing the beauty of everyday life to balance catastrophic thinking. The idea here is that it takes work to live a healthy lifestyle. Without an active effort to cultivate a healthy lifestyle, it is too easy to succumb to the stress of everyday life. Every effort you make to take care of your mental and physical well-being is a worthwhile investment for your present and future.
If you’re experiencing sleeplessness right now, please know that you will survive tonight and tomorrow. Perhaps you can let go of trying to sleep right now and watch something that will make you laugh.