I’ve had a manic fortnight between my students finishing up in NUIG, Knockanstockan, the Galway Races AND Indiependence last weekend. With the amount of alcohol consumed and the copious late nights, it’s probably fair enough to say that my insomnia is self-inflicted and it’s definitely difficult to feel sorry for me. In actual fact though, I’m a chronically bad sleeper. I’m not a huge fan of the dark so I often sleep with a nightlight on and I suffer from nightmares quite a bit. The past couple of nights have been a disaster sleep-wise (sleep paralysis, night terrors, ‘falling’ dreams) so I’ve decided to share a few of the tips and tricks that usually work for me.
Insomnia is loosly defined as sleeplessness occurring three nights per week for a period of three months or more. While we’re all guilty of misusing the term based on this definition, poor sleep affects about 15% of the Irish population each night. This can range from having trouble falling asleep, waking up throughout the night or difficulty staying asleep. Women are twice as likely to suffer from insomnia and older people are also more at risk. People with a history of mental illness or those prone to worrying or overthinking are also more at risk. I put my hand up and admit, as a chronic over thinker I fall into the latter category.
I think like most young people I’m guilty of being glued to my smart phone. Smart phones, labtops and tablets all emit a blue light that mimics the light at dawn that actually triggers the receptors in your brain to wake up since they think it is morning time. I used to waste an hour every evening in bed with the lights off flicking between Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat but gave this up. Now, lights out means all lights out.
This leads me on nicely to the issue of social media. While we all enjoy keeping up with what our friends are doing online, this can actually impact on your sleep. If you spend all evening on social media, when you eventually go to bed, your head is buzzing with everything you’ve just been watching and it can be hard to switch off.
Work stress can take its toll on all areas of your life; relationships, friendships, mood but this is especially true of sleep. I am the world’s worst for bringing work home with me in the evening and often my mind is racing when I go to bed with lists of things to do, people to email etc. One thing that I do to combat this is make a to do list everyday. As well as being a handy way of keeping track of what needs to be do, you also get the satisfaction of checking something off the list once its taken care of. Win/Win.
Caffiene is an obvious one too. There’s no point in drinking a double expresso an hour before bed then wondering why you can’t get to sleep. Ditto with food. A three course meal before bed means your body will be working overtime to digest the food and it will keep you awake long into the night.
Finally, some meditation or relaxation before bed can often make a huge difference on the quality and quantity of sleep. I often use meditation tapes when going to bed. The Honest Guys do a huge range on Youtube (free of charge) and there’s something there to suit everyone’s tastes. Things like Yoga, Mindfulness or even colouring can all help your mind to relax.