I’ve woken up and stared at the ceiling more times than I care to remember. Sometimes it’s thanks to nightmares induced by PTSD, but other times it’s because my dreams are weird, like the recurring one where I am killing zombies during the apocalypse. Frankly, the reason I awaken matters very little once I’m up and can’t fall back asleep in the expected five to twenty minutes.
Having chronic, diagnosed depression and anxiety means sleep is often an elusive concept. It also means that’s it’s incredibly crucial I get my full rest, otherwise, the exhaustion makes it a lot harder to tackle the following day’s intrusive thoughts.
Here’s the list of best practices I have collected over the past ten years that have helped me cope. I hope something in the following list resonates and perhaps even helps.
I - Make Sure Your Bed Is Only For Sleeping
(ok maybe one other thing)
Yes, it can be tempting to work in your pajamas, have breakfast, watch the morning news, then the evening news—all without getting out from under the comforter. The thing is, you can get your body to associate specific places with specific rituals. Bathroom? You know what to do there. Same thing goes for your bed. If it’s the only designated sleeping area, you’re more likely to spend time sleeping in it.
It can be a reading chair in your bedroom or a stool, if you have a smaller apartment. Try it out.
I take this very seriously. To enforce it, if I wake up in the middle of the night and know my mind is ruminating, I will very sternly remind myself: "If you’re not going to sleep, you have to get up and go to the living room. Come back when you’re ready to do more sleeping." No joke, sometimes, the thought of having to get out of bed is enough to quiet my mind.
II – Set your devices to have reduced blue light emission in the evening.
Science has proven that blue light emission keeps our brain thinking it needs to be alert. In fact, they used it to keep NASA test subjects awake during a recent circadian rhythm study. New phones and computers have built-in features to reduce blue light emission after a certain hour in the evening and you can also get a browser extension should you find that you often answer emails at night.
III - Go get a check up
Before you start experimenting, it doesn’t hurt to chat with your general doctor during your next visit. Once other possible medical conditions can be ruled out (i.e. apnea, heart conditions, arthritis), studies point to depression and anxiety being the leading causes of losing sleep. In fact, it is reported that 90% of those who have been clinically diagnosed with concurrent depression and anxiety, will qualify for the diagnosis of insomnia. Should it be a mental or physical issue, or just a temporary period of stress in your life, it doesn't hurt to double-check with your trusted healthcare provider either way.
H*ck, if nothing else, knowing nothing is physically wrong with you might be enough to keep you from tossing and turning.
III- Other Good and Bad Ideas:
-Being that social media use is closely tied to Depression, it’s safe to presume that checking your accounts before going to bed might not be the best idea.
-When I have asked friends for their advice, I very often hear that the research behind yoga and sleeping better is sound. Since these exercises are normally associated with stress-reduction, they’re usually enough to help start your body’s process of winding down.
I also find keeping my room cooler at night, scientists say down to 68° helps me want to stay huddled under snuggly blankets and relax.
If You Really Want Results, Set Up a Nightly Routine
Doctors often talk about how important keeping a routine is to maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm. But waking up at the same time every day, as most of us need to for work, is hardly possible without going to bed at the same time first.
What repetitive actions do to our brains, basically, is help our bodies proceed according to a plan. Basically, we can start sending it signals to power our minds and bodies down.
I follow this plan as closely as I possibly can:
1. 9:30 PM hits and I get into the shower. Hot or cold per preference. Usually hot for me.
2. I pick out my PJs, reflecting on the mood I am in. Fleece, shorts, nightgown—it’s a regular dress-up party. I do it because it feels like a nice way to take care of myself.
If I had a stressful day and can tell my mind is still reeling at this point then I might:
Take a sleep aid tablet such as Melatonin, Magnesium, Chamomile or Benadryl [link to episode] (always check with your doctor and use a brand you trust when taking any kind of supplement).
3. Brush my teeth
4. Apply moisturizing face lotion/acne gel
5. Fill up my small bed stand humidifier with water and lavender oil
6. Put lotion on hands
7. Put on comfy, cozy socks
8. Get into bed
9. Remember that I need to pee, climb out of bed, pee, get back into bed
Ok maybe I don’t do the last one every time but you would be surprised at how often it still happens considering my age and the fact that I have kept this routine for at least four years.
10. Double check that my iPad has ‘nightmode’ on, to reduce aforementioned blue light. Proceed to find something under ten minutes to watch.
11. I am usually out before my chosen video ends.
If keeping the same routine before bed every single day sounds boring to you. Well, I would argue that only reinforces my point. Knowing how frustrating losing sleep is, I sincerely hope any of my points help you get to a better night’s sleep. Once we all run on a hybrid robot-humanoid system ofcourse, this won’t be an issue, but until then….
I am sure I missed something and I am also positive you have some things you keep as part of your night routine that I forgot. Let me know what they are in the comments.