Sleep is a big issue for me and most people with mental health conditions that I have spoken to. Depression, Anxiety, Elevated Moods, PTSD – all of these things are (understandably) amazing at causing insomnia.

Insomnia leads to overthinking which generally only ever makes things worse, those of us fighting off depression and anxiety end up trapped in a seemingly never ending loop. In people with bipolar disorder, lack of sleep can actually trigger hypomania or mania – I find that the less I sleep the less I think I need to sleep, my mind is wired and excited thinking about how I can renovate the house, fix the situation in Syria or start my own cooking show and sleep when you don’t ‘feel’ tired is the last thing you feel like doing. But alas, even though I feel I am being productive my body cannot sustain it and it only makes the crash back to earth later that much harder.

So, we agree that insomnia is not a good thing, but how on earth do we prevent it? Unfortunately the answers are pretty much all those pesky commonsense things that the doctors all recommend…

No screens for an hour before bedtime and definitely no screens in bed!

Psychologists everywhere say the bed should be for two things Sleep and Sex but I know that in this day and with the dawn of artificial light a big proportion of us have TVs, phones or tablets in our room and once we snuggle under the covers we tend to pull these out. Hubby and I usually go to bed at night and then watch a movie before we go to sleep, sometimes if the movie is bad enough, it can actually HELP with sleep, but on the whole, the artificial light from screens is far from restful so perhaps if you are not feeling tired or you are feeling particularly anxious try to have a further half an hour of screen-free wind down time before you commit yourself to trying to sleep. Things you could use to wind down may include:

  • Reading: Use the slightly less artificial light from your bedside lamp (make sure you are using a low wattage globe) and read an old fashioned book rather than staring at a brightly back-lit kindle.
  • Writing: Write down what you did today, write the worst thing that happened, the best thing that happened and what you have learned today. – avoid To Do lists as if you are anything like me as soon as you close your eyes 10 more things will instantly spring to mind and you will start worrying about forgetting them until it’s an hour later and you finally get up and write them down, notice that nobody unstacked the dishwasher and before you know it it’s 3am again.
  • Talking: If you have a partner, share with each other the highlights and low lights of your days.
  • Have a warm drink (probably not one high in caffeine, a double expresso may give you the opposite of what you are looking for).
  • Now is a great time to read positive affirmations if that is your thing, it gives you a positive thought process to take into your dreams

Some other things you can do to try and improve your sleep cycle:

  • Reduce your caffeine intake, particularly in the afternoon – even if you have had a big day at work, 6pm is NOT a good time for a Red Bull. Besides the obvious stimulant qualities of caffeine, it has that other pesky side effect of making some people need to pee more frequently, its harder to get a sound nights sleep if you need to get up repeatedly to relieve yourself.
  • Exercise – but probably later in the afternoon or early evening, not just before bedtime as exercise can tire out our bodies, but the endorphins released will actually have the opposite affect in some people and invigorate them.
  • Go to the toilet before bed whether you need to or not because half of us have bladders like small children and if you don’t go, you will likely toss and turn for an hour and on the verge of falling asleep you will realise that you now need to get up and pee.
  • Set your alarm half an hour earlier – getting up earlier makes me far more productive in general and then by the time bedtime rolls around I am already feeling sleepier.
  • Don’t force yourself to lie down in bed if you are absolutely not at all tired, get up and do something boring like mundane housework until you are feeling a bit sleepy, as soon as that sleepiness hits stop and go to bed, even if you are being productive if you choose to dust that last chandelier then the tiredness might pass you by and you will be back at square one.
  • Sleeping Medication: Sometimes none of these tips will have any effect on you whatsoever but it is a fact that once your sleep pattern becomes regular it is easier for both your brain and your body to function with daily demands of life and that will give you a stronger mindset in which to tackle the bigger issues that may be causing sleep disturbance in the first place. Even if it means initially taking sleeping tablets to get it back on track, the importance of a full nights sleep cannot be understated and if you are persistently having issues then I recommend that you talk to your healthcare provider about sleeping aids.

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