10 steps to combat insomnia

Raise your hand if insomnia was one of the first hints you had that you were premenopausal.  I know, it is miserable.  Anyone that knows me well knows that I love my sleep.  Growing up my bedroom was steps away from the family den.  My mom loves to joke about me as a seven year old girl coming out of my room with an angry scowl to tell my parents who were watching TV, "turn it down, I'm trying to sleep!”  Even as that little girl I guarded my sleep time.


 Sleep has always been sacred to me.


So, I do understand the pain of insomnia.  It robs you of energy for the next day, it sets you up to be apathetic about exercise and your food choices too.  That can cause a downward spiral, because those choices make a big impact on the quality of your sleep.


Here are 10 steps you can take today to get a better night of sleep, and all the goodness that entails.


1.  Go to bed at a regular time every night.  The earlier the better.

By having a regular time to go to bed, your body learns when to sleep.  You have probably heard about circadian rhythms.  By working with the body’s natural rhythm, and not against it, you have a much better chance of getting the sleep you crave.  Try to stay within 20 minutes of the same bedtime every night.


2.  Have a night time routine.

Before you get in bed, have a routine that you follow every night for the last 30 minutes, to preferably an hour.  This time prepares your mind to rest, and notifies your body that you are heading to bed.  This is the time that you wash your face, brush you teeth, take a bath, and change your clothes.  If you do the same steps after dinner every night, that time is part of the routine; cleaning the kitchen, walking the dog, and even watching TV.  Although, the TV time shouldn’t be too close to bedtime, but we will get to that soon.


3.  Avoid caffeine after 2 pm.

If you have hot flashes, caffeine is something you should consider removing altogether from your diet.  More about hot flashes below.  It seems all of this is tied together…interesting.  As you know, caffeine can boost your energy and help you wake up in the morning.  You certainly don’t need anything to make sleep even more difficult.  Everyone has a different tolerance to caffeine.  Some people claim that a cup of fully caffeinated coffee before bed helps them sleep.  Those are rare people, and I am not suggesting you try that.  Preferably, avoid any level of caffeine, including chocolate, in the evening.  Decaf coffee still has a small amount of caffeine.  If you are very sensitive, it may be enough to effect your sleep.


4.  Exercise daily.

Give your body a reason to be tired.  For most people, it is better to exercise earlier in the day.  The last hour or so before bed it will get you more alert and make sleep more difficult.  However, by exercising earlier in the day, or being very active throughout the day, your body will require the sleep to recover.  You are setting yourself up for restful sleep.  A sedentary lifestyle does not create the good stress on the body that will improve sleep.  Not to be confused with the stress we usually think of, like workplace stress or emotional stress.


5.  Manage hot flashes.

Hot flashes are a very common reason for women near menopause to have trouble sleeping.  For the immediate relief I recommend using cotton bedding and gown, using a fan, and drinking cold water in the evening.  As I mentioned above, caffeine can bring on a hot flash.  If appropriate, weight loss has been noted to reduce hot flashes as well.


6.  White noise

Don’t you hate it when you are almost asleep, feeling so blissfully relaxed, and the slightest sound jolts you wide awake.  It can be the floor creaking, or a neighbor’s dog barking, or your husband beginning to snore!  Something I use is an air purifier.  it is pretty big, and not a decorative element for our bedroom, but it has become a necessity for me to sleep well at night.  I will warn you that it may make it difficult to sleep when you are away from home, unless you can substitute with a small fan.  Actually a fan would be a great alternative, as it can help with the hot flashes.  Once I became accustomed to having that white noise, it is difficult to relax fully in silence.


There are apps that produce white noise, and you can set them on a timer.  They have sounds like rain, or a crackling fire.  I have not had luck with using them, but that is just my own experience.  Many are free, give them a try.  


7.  Avoid back lit screens for an hour before bed.

It has been shown that watching TV, or being on any device with a back lit screen (like your cell phone, or tablet) causes difficulty falling asleep.  Reading is wonderful at bedtime, and I love the e-readers.  But, get a plain one without the fancy apps. Those with the light that shines around the edges are perfect for nighttime reading.


8.  Inform your family

Your husband and children want you to be rested and pleasant the next day.  They may not realize that they are keeping you awake.  You probably shouldn't act like my seven year old self (referred to above).  During the day, today even, let them know that you have been having trouble sleeping, and the noise that effects your sleep.  They may surprise you with how accommodating they can be.


9.  Keep a notebook to dump your brain.

So often what keeps me awake is all the thoughts that bother me.  They may be things I need to get done, or things I should have said or done differently.  Sometimes its worry.  Bedtime is not an effective time to resolve any of these, so it is certainly self defeating to allow these thoughts to rob you of rest.  


Try this, before you turn out the light, write down all the things that are on your mind.  No editing, just free flow.  You may come up with a great idea.  Wonderful, write it down, and you can get to it in the morning.  Keep the notebook nearby, with a pen.  If a thought begins to bother you after you turn out the light, scribble it down in the dark.  It will still be legible.  Make sure you review your list in the morning.  If you have a habit of following through, your brain will trust the process and let the thought go in the night.  That idea comes from  David Allen, author of  Getting Things Done.


10.  As a last resort, check with your doctor about supplements that may be helpful.  I am not suggesting that going to your doctor should be a last resort.  Always, if you experience a new and troubling symptom, you should refer to your doctor.  But supplements may or may not be effective.  Each person is individual in their response to supplements, or even to medications.  A good resource of which supplements to ask your doctor about is Dr Sara Gottfried.  She is the author of The Hormone Cure, and takes a unique approach to all the hormonal issues of women.


You will experience the best results by applying all of the first 9 steps.  But, if that is a big leap from where you are now, just apply one at a time.  When we make drastic changes in our lifestyle all at once, it is difficult to maintain for the long haul.  All of these steps will have additional benefits outside of better sleep.  Your health will improve, stress level decrease, even have better communication within your family.  I wish all the best for you!


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Photo credit: moments in nature by Antje Schultner / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)