You would love to get a good night's sleep but you can't? Not sleeping well is a common problem and often happens when you need your sleep most! But fear not, there are many things you can do to improve your sleep.
What is insomnia?
Poor sleep can take a number of different forms. Common ones are:
- trouble falling asleep
- worrying or thinking too much in bed
- worrying about not sleeping
- waking up frequently in the night and having trouble falling asleep again (waking frequently itself is not necessarily a problem)
Why you don't sleep
Many people who suffer from insomnia start to sleep poorly for some understandable reason. Maybe because of financial difficulties or relationship problems. However, after the crisis passes, the bad sleep can continue - and it becomes a habit.
Insomnia and your study
There may be a temptation at 2 o'clock in the morning when you can't sleep to get the books out and start studying. Avoid doing this and focus on doing what you have to do, go to sleep. By studying when you need to be sleeping, you reinforce the poor sleeping habit. The quicker you get into a good sleep routine the better off you will be. Study as much as possible immediately after what sleep you get as this is when you are freshest.
Ideas to overcome sleep problems:
- Lie down to sleep ONLY when you are actually sleepy - sleepiness comes in waves that are usually an hour to an hour and a half apart; so learn to surf the waves!
- Associate bed with sleep. It should not be the place where you study, watch TV or read - unless, of course, these activities help you fall to sleep!
- If you are able to lie in bed resting peacefully and not thinking too much, stay there. Resting peacefully is nearly as restorative as sleeping. If you don't fall asleep within about 30 minutes after turning out the light, and this is making you feel anxious, get up. Go to another room, and do something that is not going to wake you up even more. Read, knit or watch TV - this is not the time to pop an exercise DVD on!
- If you return to bed and don't fall asleep within 30 minutes or if you wake in the night and have trouble getting back to sleep, repeat step 3.
- It is really important to get up at the same time every morning, regardless of how long you have slept - this helps your body to develop a consistent sleep rhythm.
- Conversely, try to go to bed at the same time each night. Ideally, for an adult, this will be anywhere from 7 to 10 hours before you need to wake up. Many people mistake the amount they need to sleep, and fret that they are not getting 8 hours each night, when they would thrive on only 6. If you spend an hour each night tossing and turning before you fall asleep, maybe you are literally just going to bed too early.
- Do something to unwind at the end of each day. Go for a leisurely walk, learn yoga, have a hot bath, get a massage, meditate... We often know what we need to do, but we convince ourselves we haven't got the time. You can get to the point where your body has forgotten what it feels like to really relax.
- During the day, try to get at least 20 minutes of exercise. If you feel you may have any underlying health problems, see a doctor or a naturopath.
- Eat at least two hours before you retire. If you have trouble getting to sleep, cut down on spicy, rich and cheesy foods. Complex carbohydrates, especially those found in oats and other whole grains, are very good in helping you to doze.
- Try to stop studying a hour before bed so you have enough time to relax before you go to bed.
- Learn to reduce thinking and worrying in bed. For most people, this is the hard bit! Try keeping a note pad next to your bed where you can write things down and tell yourself "I will think about this in the morning"
- Reduce caffeine intake.
- Ensure good sleep hygiene.
- When you have a worrying thought, try saying NO to it. This gets easier with practice!
- Tell yourself you will think about it tomorrow.
- Keep a pad by the bed so you can jot down things you have forgotten to do - then let them go until tomorrow.
- Remind yourself you will survive sleeplessness - you may feel lousy but it won't kill you. Remember that if you can just lie in bed and rest - even if you don't sleep - it can be nearly as restorative.
- Try to replace worries with peaceful thoughts, picture up a peaceful place which you can visit mentally, remember movies or TV programs you have enjoyed.
- Remind yourself that most of the things we worry about don't happen and that you will handle them if they do!
- Try to focus on the positive aspects rather than the negative aspects in your life. It's very helpful to recognise what is working in your life - the good stuff.
Contact a counsellor on campus if your worries persist. They can help you to put things into perspective and provide some much needed support during the difficult times.
Taking it further