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Overcoming My Sleep Struggles

I have struggled with sleep for many years. I don't remember exactly when it started, but it was sometime during high school or college (7-10 years ago.)

My problem, and maybe you can relate, was that I would wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to fall back asleep for hours, if at all. Sometimes I would fall back asleep, only to re-wake a few minutes later. If you've ever experienced this before, you know how frustrating it can be. And of course, getting worked up about not being able to fall asleep doesn't exactly help.

These waves of insomnia would come and go, but could last for several days, even weeks. In stressful seasons, it was almost guaranteed. On nights when I put pressure on myself to get a good sleep, I definitely did not. For example, the night before an exam, a big hike, or a day of travelling, I would often be awake for 2-6 hours. It also happened out of the blue, when I wasn't stressed or anticipating anything in particular. As the years went on, it seemed to happen more and more.

I tried melatonin. I tried the military sleep method. I listened to audiobooks, podcasts and sleep playlists to help me fall back asleep. None of it worked consistently. As you can imagine, I was frustrated and exhausted.

So, at the end of 2022, I looked up our local sleep clinic. On their website, they have a list of things to try before you come see them. Truthfully, I didn't think these tips would help much. I thought it would take more than changing my routine to solve my problems, but I figured I would give it a go anyway.

I made it my intention for the year of 2023 to improve my sleep habits. Here are the things I changed:

  • I started reading before bed (on the couch, not in bed, according to their rules.)

  • I try not to be on my phone in bed, or spend much time on it during the 30 mins before bed.

  • If I would wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to fall back asleep after 30 mins, I'd go back out to the couch and read for up to 30 mins. Then, I'd try going back to sleep. That usually worked, but a few times I had to go back out to the couch a second time. As stated on the sleep clinic information sheet 'You do not want to stay in bed awake for long periods of time “practicing insomnia” and reinforcing the bed as a place to be awake.' This was the most impactful change I made.

  • When I am trying to fall asleep, I summarize what happened in whatever book I am reading- kind of like telling myself a bedtime story. This is my 'relaxation technique.' I find this just interesting enough to keep my attention from wandering to my own worries or ideas, and just boring enough to put me to sleep.

  • I wake up at the same time every weekday, even if I was awake during the night.

  • In the morning, I get out of bed as soon as my alarm goes off. I used to do my devotions and journaling in bed in the morning, but now I do them in the living room.

  • I also prayed about it! That was not on the sleep clinic website, but still worth mentioning.

At first, implementing these habits was kind of hard. I especially did not want to get out of bed in the middle of the night to read. It's cold out there! Thankfully, I started to notice improvements after only a few weeks. After a few months, I barely had to get out of bed during the night at all.

This doesn't mean that my sleep is perfect now. I still have some nights where I wake up multiple times, but the difference is that now I can fall back asleep on my own, within half an hour. Because of this, a lot of the anxiety I experienced around sleep has diminished. Now, when I wake up before my alarm, I don't panic, wondering if I'll be able to fall back asleep.

Overall, my sleep quality over the last 6 months has been much better than any 6 month period in the last 7 years. I love waking up without that foggy, nauseous, sleep-deprived feeling. I'm so grateful that it seems like I am finally overcoming this struggle, and it really didn't take that much time or effort. I didn't even have to buy anything! I'm sure there will still be times when I will struggle with sleep, but at least I now have the tools I need to hopefully keep it from getting out of hand.

The reason I am writing this post is that I have recently talked to several people, friends and clients included, who struggle with their sleep in a similar way. It seems to be a common problem. If my story can help someone, then it's worth writing. After all, sleep is an essential component of health. Please don't ignore your sleep problems as long as I did.

If you'd like to read the full document that got me started on improving my sleep, click here.

Sleep well, friends!



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