16 tricks to put Insomnia to bed.

12:37 PM

If you find yourself struggling with sleep on a regular basis, you are an Insomniac. And, if so, welcome to the club, I have been there for as long as I can remember.

In my case, my tossing and turning are the result of an hypersensitive nervous system paired with the fact I only really start becoming productive mid afternoon. Loud noises bother me, and I can feel the slightest pressure on my skin. A mosquito wheezing in my ear, or a bite, or too hot or too cold are all more than enough to wake me up and keep me from going back to sleep.

16 tricks to put an end to insomnia and get a good night sleep

My mind also tend to start racing with idea and bouts of creativity by the time the sun sets. Unfortunately, sleep can only really happen when both the body and the mind are ready for it. Even more unfortunate, we live in a society that demands of us to be productive according to a specific timetable.

Fortunately, having been no stranger to tossing and turning, I found that some tricks help better than other in coping with insomnia. Here are the ones I have sworn by for years :

Get into a routine. As soon as you come home from work in the evening, start getting your body and mind ready for sleep. It is a slow process but you need to start giving hint to your system that the day has reached an end. Instead of rushing to do all the housework left to do, or just do a few more quick calls, or email checks. Drop everything and start relaxing (the following few tips are part of my routine).

Have a warm shower. I know the idea of an evening shower is highly unpopular in India, but trust me this is the best thing you can give yourself at the end of a long day. The hot water will loosen tensed muscle, and wash all the dust and pollution off your skin. You do not want to go to bed dirty, this is a very unhealthy thing to do and could even disrupt your sleep.

Change into comfortable clothes. See it that way, clothes are like a body armour. You wear certain clothes to do certain tasks. Formal wear for work, workout wear to excersise and clothes suited for specific social gatherings. They all have their uses. Your indoor, end of the day clothes should be comfortable and help you relax into sleep mode. For me, my indoor end of day clothes are actually my nightwear: tshirts and short in the Summer, and longer pants in the Winter.

Eat dinner early. Digestion should not start too close to bedtime if you want your system to ease itself into sleep mode. Ideally dinner should happen at least 2 hours before bedtime. If you feel a little bit hungry at betime, it is ok to have a cracker or two before bed, but there should not be a heavy fresh load on the stomach.

Prefer yellow light over white. Studies have shown that white fluorescent bulbs tend to prevent the body to secreting adequate amount of melatonin, the sleep hormone. It mimics sunlight too closely and trick the body into thinking it is not yet evening. If you have problem finding sleep in the first place, this could be even worse. Switch all your bulbs to "warm white" ones instead of the regular cool white. They are available at all electrical stores in India if you ask for them.
I also found out that in my case, I benefit even more if said lights are of low intensity and in table lamps and floor lamps instead of a brighter ceiling lamp, a few hours of dim lighting before bedtime ease me into sleep mode.

What you eat matters too. Not only should you not eat too heavily before bed, but mind what is on your plate too. Dinner should be higher in protein than in carbohydrates as the body uses the night time to regenerate. Proteins provide the building blocks needed for this process and also ensure a more stable blood sugar through the resting phase. You want to avoid food that will cause spikes and sudden drop in blood sugar. So, keep the rice off the plate, along with all other refined carbs.

Drink something hot. In Switzerland, we usually finish dinner with a cup of caffeine free "tea". I say tea, but they are in fact fruit or flower infusions and we have a big market for these. In India there are quite a few available now. My favourites are berry infusions, but camomile works amazing too. Look for any infusion brew that contains no actual tea in them. I usually have a cup before bedtime too. If you have a taste for warm milk ( which I don't) it works too, as long as you keep the chocolate powder out, as it contains caffeine.

Go to bed only when ready to sleep. If you find yourself still tossing and turning after 15 minutes, get out, and do something else until you feel sleepy again.

Have a brain dump notebook. When my mind race with ideas close to bed time, I write them all down in a notebook. It is a way to flush my brain. Once all that excess information is on paper I can relax again and usually find sleep quickly afterward.

Limit screen time. Screen, be it TV, the computer or the phone emit light that prevents the brain from fully relaxing. Grab a book instead and read for a while.

Keep the bedroom cool. The ideal sleep temperature is said to be between 15-20 degree Celsius. And while it is not possible in hotter climates, try to keep it as close to 20 as possible. In Switzerland we sleep with open windows even in the dead of Winter. We even switch off the central heating then. By the time we wake up in the morning the room temp could be close to 10-15 degrees in places, but we still do it. Cold temperatures trigger your body into conserving energy and sleeping.
I found that I have far less problem sleeping with the AC on in the Summer, as much as I hate it it is that or my health and sanity. I've done years of Summer without AC in India, enough to tell you a cold room makes a HUGE difference. I keep the AC at 25 degrees.

Wear comfortable night wear. What you wear to bed matters, a lot. Opt for clothes that do not obstruct movement, and do not bulge under your weight. Do not wear what is dictated to be right to wear according to fashion, tradition, and what not. Wear what is right for YOU.
In my case, it has to be a stretchy tee that still follow my body's form with shorts or long cotton pants depending the climate. I have never ever been able to sleep well in a night gown....EVER. I know some swear by them, they just don't do the trick for me, and no force strong enough would make me wear one.

All the tricks above are good to help you find sleep in the first place. But, there are nights during which I find myself waking up come 2-3am. In fact, thanks to my doing all of the above, I don't find myself finding sleep in the first place very often. My challenge is to STAY asleep. Here is what I do when that happens :

Grab a bite. While it is rarely the case for me, waking up in the middle of the night could suggest a drop in blood sugar. I recognise these early, but even if what woke me up is a noise in the night, or a mosquito bite, I will still go nibble on something. Go for something high in protein rather than high in sugar. I usually go for a piece of cheese with a piece of fruit.

Make yourself a cup of fruit infusion. To make sure I can drink it quickly enough I put half a cup of boiling water with my tea bag in and then top it with room temperature water. I then sit quietly in the dark on my balcony or in the living room.

Listen to some music. I keep my iPod charged and ready in my night stand, I even have a playlist of soft instrumental music to play. It helps me find sleep again very quickly.

Take the next day easy if you can. If you were kept up half the night, your next day performance is going to suffer from it. Resist the temptation to take a long nap if you have the luxury of it. But do not go without any shut eye, go for a quick power night of 20-30 minutes and avoid any stressful activity.
Stress is the enemy of insomniacs. Stress release adrenaline in the blood stream which will prevent you from feeling tired. When your body has reached the sheer exhaustion level, the adrenal glands will kick in, so if you realise you really can't perform, take a break. You don't want to get caught into a vicious cycle of you being physically worn out but unable to go to sleep because your are too keys up and pumped with adrenaline come 10pm.

Naturally, if all fails, see a doctor promptly. Insomnia can be the symptom of an underlying condition that may require treatment. Also keep in mind that prolonged sleep deprivation can lead to clinical depression. You might need more than herbal tea and soothing music, and in such cases, do not self medicate. Seek professional help.

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  1. Anonymous4:18 PM

    I agree with most of your points especially the first point about getting your body ready for sleep as the day has ended. However, the problem, we get home late, eat dinner late and in between want to catch up on a cricket match or news. Basically, for the entire day you are working for somebody else. Now, after office, it is "me time". We want to know what happened in the world behind our back. Then your mind works overtime to understand what different political parties are upto if we manage to hear the different spokesmen while they are screaming at each other. Whether they want to do something this time or it is the same story. The news anchors time and again remind us that we must know what they are telling us, if we are able to hear it. Thus, our mind is occupied by one thing or the other.

    BTW, whew the Delhi elections got over and we have a clear verdict. This is what the people of Delhi were waiting for over one year. It has been a spectacular result. Thousand of government servants worked for months to make this elections a success. There were 97000 government servants this time engaged in the elections. They have to reach the polling station at 5.00 AM, receive the Electronic Machines, check them and by 8.00 AM people start pouring in. The voting time is between 8.00 AM and 6.00 PM this time. This means that they do not have any rest for the entire day. After that the machines are to be sealed, forms filled and deposited at the collection centre. It is back breaking work. This time the voting was around 65%, I guess which is very high. These are small parts in a huge machinery called Government which makes elections a success in India. This is called the dance of democracy.


    1. A long time ago, I worked in call centers, my commute alone was 2 hours each ways accross Bangalore. I was working the 1pm to 9pm shift. And guess what? I was not eating dinner home, I refused to do it. I grabbed a bite at 7pm just the same I always did. When I reached home, I would not watch TV either, better time spending it with my husband. I would wake up at 8am just to be able to enjoy breakfast with hubby, and then catching up on a few emails before work.

      I think the main problem is that we live in a world that gives us the illusion we can't unplug. But we all grew up with one or two TV channels, no computer and no smart phones. And we did great.
      I can't bring myself to watch the news channel, I read the paper when I have time, and rely on my FB feed for interesting reads I would have missed otherwise. I work the whole day too, between taking care of my daughter, helping with school work, cooking and my blog, I must be clocking the same 12-14 hours of work my husband does. Except mine goes on on Saturday Sundays and there is no telling when I'll be on duty call in the middle of the night shooing a monster away or changing a soiled bedsheet because Ishita got sick or peed in bed.

      Both my Husband and I are really not big on TV, he comes home from work at 8-9 pm goes for a walk, then shower, dinner, and do some light reading on his computer because unlike me, screens don't disturb his sleep pattern much. He reads the paper in the morning and then head to work.
      The big problem is that we sadly got fooled as a society thinking that we can do it all, and that technology is essential in our lives and there to make things easier. It requires a lot of discipline to put a stop to it.
      But when you have chronic insomnia, the choice is either sleep and stay healthy, or toss and turn and progressively open the door to lifestyle diseases and clinical depression. Continued lack of proper sleep has some devastating effect on the body. Having been in Insomnia land since my childhood, I know too well what just a few consecutive nights of little sleep can do : impair cognitive skills, memory, and motor skills. Throw hunger cycles completely out of wack. Affect the mood, leads to increased irritability and ability to function rationally. Increase heart rate due to too much adrenaline pumped into the blood. Affects blood sugar regulation. Improperly regenerated muscles gets more injury prone. And the immune system stops performing well opening the door to opportunitic viruses to take over.
      Very prolonged sleep deprivation leads to clinical depression, and it runs in my family. Trust me, it is nasty enough to see what depression, the real clinical thing can do to your loved ones.
      If being a social network and TV pariah, or the odd one that eat meals at different times can prevent it...then be it. For me the choice is very easy.

    2. Anonymous9:37 AM

      Call centre people have it very hard. I have heard that they serve junk food at the call centre. When the entire world go to sleep they work and they come back home and sleep during the day. It completely throws their body clock off. It also leads to various lifestyle disorders like insomnia, blood pressure, diabetic etc. Basically, these places exploit young people with high salaries with zero addition to their work experience and totally ruining their health. But young people have great craze for these jobs due to the pay and also the fact they get to talk like Americans. Indians are pleased by these simple things. Once in a while, they arrange competitions and give small gifts as prizes to keep the folks happy. In addition, there have been a few incidents involving cab drivers of call centres in Delhi. Now, it is a rule for the cab drivers to leave the female employee right at the door step of her house. But, who will give a guarantee for the cab driver?? These call centre jobs add nothing to your experience plus the ungodly hours make it dangerous for women.


    3. I was a French language specialist, and spoke French. I wasn't in sale so thee was zero incentives, no perks, no gifts, nothing. We used to get 30 rupees handed in cash per day to eat Lunch because the canteen was closed when we had our lunch break the only two options were Cafe Coffee Day and Shiv Sagar. Since CCD only had yucky samose that still costed a bomb, we used to go for the cheap South Indian meal at Shiv Sagar. There was a supermarket downstairs too, we could buy cookies and crackers there. We tried taking tiffins for a while, but the was no place to eat comfortably, we were forbidden to eat at our desk, and it left only the staircase...no thanks. A friend and I went to the chaat corner at 7pm for a quick snack, or we bought a few fruits to eat.

      I would. It say these jobs are useless, because the trend of having work experience to vouch for that is HIGHLY prevalent in Europe has caught up in India, so a Student that worked two months in call centers during the Summer has a higher credential than one that did nothing but study. The working world in India is changing, with too many having MBAs because it is the "it" thing to have there is little value to them. But any work experience is a huge pro. In Switzerland an employer is more likely to hire the guy who worked as a toilet cleaner during their Summer break over the one that did nothing even if they come from the same college and have the same degree. Summer jobs are a big thing there. So is any volunteer work you might have done, as well as any club activity. In my case stating that I was the head of the costume committee in my local choir was something very impressive that had a lot of weight.

  2. Hello! I recently found your blog and fell in love, I hope you don't mind the follow =)
    This post was exactly what I needed (although, here I am at 10:30pm my time, on the laptop!). This are all very good tips that I'll have to try!

    I can't wait to keep reading more!

    1. Hi Cheyenne, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I do. It mind the follow at all.
      I hope these tips will help you find sleep quickly.

  3. Awesome points Lady!!! I'll have to remember a few of these when we are in India next year ... I have suvhwa hard time sleeping when I'm there ....

    1. Thank you dear. I hope you'll have an easier time sleeping :-)

  4. Great post, Cyn!!
    I thought the analogy of eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a lord and dinner like a pauper, very helpful. Whilst in India though, I got into the awful habit of eating one meal a day, usually at 9pm (because I can only cook once everyone else has stopped cooking). In the morning the kitchen is full of people, but now we're moving into out I hope to change back to my old ways! This should help sleep and my metabolism!

    Also, Indian beds are so hard compared to beds in the UK, but I am slowly getting used to that (slowly!!).

    Again, great post! :D xx

    1. This is funny about beds, because I never liked sleeping on a soft one. The best years of my life in Switzerland were the ones spent on my hard foam mattress on the ground of my studio apartment. But yeah I know what you mean :-)

      I still go by the whole breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper concept.

      I hope you can go back to that schedule quickly.

  5. Great list.
    The only thing I would add would be 'practice mindfulness'.
    Get in the habit of meditation.
    I did a residency in ' high risk pregnancies that was just 24/7 nonstop nightmares.
    Being a light sleeper also I developed severe insomnia.
    Meditation works, although it is probably the most difficult habit to get into, (at least for me.)

    1. Yeah meditation was and is still difficult for me, reason why I didn't add it to the list. It is really hard for me to rein in my mind and not let my thoughts wander, multiply and get out of control. Writing them down helps me flush them though.


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