One thing that comes with the territory as an adult sleep coach is I have a lot of people ask me how I sleep. Just like you expect a personal trainer to be in great shape, my clients expect me to sleep well all night, every night if they’re going to trust the insomnia tips I supply.
Thankfully I can say that my sleep is light years better than it used to be. Before becoming a sleep coach, I spent at least 15 years feeling like I had no control over whether I would successfully fall asleep or stay asleep each night. As someone who enjoys solving a tough problem, that was one frustrating riddle that kept me up at night (literally).
All of the studying I have done and coaching experience I’ve gained since then not only benefits my clients, but it has helped me smooth out my own sleep issues and be a more confident sleeper.
I still have the occasional morning where I wake up earlier than desired, or times where I’m awake for a bit during the night, but now I know that it’s natural for everyone. I’m able to think it through rationally, make adjustments for subsequent nights, and take it in stride if I don’t get a full night of sleep once in a while. No stress, no worry, no negative sleep thoughts.
Why am I telling you all of this? Mostly because I want you to know it’s possible to improve your sleep even if it seems hopeless right now.
As someone who has taken a one-way trip away from a place of fatigue and frustration, I want to pass along a few of the most important insomnia tips that I wish I’d known long ago. I hope the insights you gain from my past sleep mistakes will help you if you are struggling to get enough rest.
Here are some of my favorite insomnia tips:
1. Take a chill pill (rather than a sleeping pill)
I’m not normally an anxious person or a worrier — except when it comes to sleep. I used to worry that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep, or that I would wake up in the middle of the night, or that I would wake up at 3 a.m. and not be able to get back to sleep. While awake at night, I worried about how exhausted I would feel at work the next day. And I worried what insomnia was doing to my health.
That’s a lot of baggage to be carrying around when it’s time to fall asleep!
It wasn’t until I became a sleep coach that I learned why I shouldn’t worry as much, and how to reduce that sleep anxiety. In a nutshell, the more you worry about sleep, the more alert you may become when it’s time to sleep. And when you worry so much, you tend to change your behaviors in ways that might actually make it harder for you to sleep.
The takeaway here is that by working to lessen your worry surrounding sleep, you clear the way for more peaceful sleep.
2. Learn to REALLY relax
I used to think that relaxing meant watching movies for a few hours and taking lengthy naps during the weekend (this was before I had kids, obviously). My regular nightly routine involved watching TV until it was time to go to bed, and then diving into bed and hoping I would fall asleep.
It’s not until I became an adult sleep coach that I realized my idea of relaxation wasn’t helpful for sleep. While I still enjoy a good show or movie in moderation, I know now that I was using TV in an attempt to block out job stress, feelings of unfulfillment, or whatever else was gnawing at me that day. Rather than truly relaxing, I was repressing. And the things I was repressing usually resurfaced as I tried to fall asleep or in the middle of the night.
Now, I make it a point to build healthy relaxation into my days and evenings. I experimented until I found a routine that worked for me, which includes:
- Turning off the TV at least an hour before bed
- Dimming the lights and listening to an audiobook
- Practicing meditation during my days and evenings
What works for my personal routine may not work for you, but the point is that you can improve your sleep by being intentional and consistent with relaxation.
3. Stop trying so hard to sleep
Sometimes, the harder you try to fall asleep, the further away from sleep you drift. It’s like when you try to touch one positively charged magnet with another positively charged one (see the amazing GIF I created).
Now that I look back, I remember trying really hard to sleep and usually failing miserably.
The trick is to let sleep happen rather than trying to force it. When you have a solid sleep routine in place, your mind and body are relaxed, and you keep a positive mindset about sleep, you shouldn’t need to try hard. Sleep will come knocking at your door, and you just need to welcome it in with a smile.
4. Stay busy with activities that fill your bucket
Have you ever noticed that it often seems easier to fall asleep after you’ve had a productive or fulfilling day? Maybe you made strong progress on a big project, took a long bike ride, spent time with a favorite friend, or learned a fun song on the guitar.
After a day like this, you’re likely brimming with positive feelings of accomplishment or fulfillment. This is all thanks in part to a surge in your happy hormones, which include dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin. You have given your body and mind the memories and experiences they need to feel good, and in return they reward you in many different ways — including better sleep.
Now that I know the psychology and physiology behind how this affects my sleep, I personally try to infuse my days with activities that will leave me feeling fulfilled at bedtime. When my head hits the pillow at night, more often than not I feel like I made the most of that day and have nothing left to accomplish until the sun rises again.
5. Don’t hesitate to ask for help
I struggled with insomnia for at least eight or nine years before I finally asked a doctor about it. Why did I wait so long? Mostly because I didn’t think anyone could help me sleep better. To me, it seemed like sleep was a personal issue that I had to figure out on my own.
The first doctor prescribed an antidepressant that is commonly used for insomnia because one of its side effects is drowsiness. The pills didn’t help much and had other undesirable side effects, and I didn’t want to have to rely on something like that for years to come.
That first experience discouraged me for a few years until I asked a new doctor for some insomnia tips. He recommended cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which avoids prescription pills and instead focuses on your thoughts and behaviors surrounding sleep. Although I didn’t immediately try CBT, that was the spark I needed to look further into getting drug-free help for my insomnia. (I have since become a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia practitioner.)
Fast-forward to today, and I’m here to tell you that if you want to sleep better, you should feel comfortable asking for help. It’s no different than asking an optometrist to help you see better.
It’s smart to consult with your doctor to get their opinion on your sleep issues, and to take any recommended tests to rule out medical issues. If there’s no obvious medical reason for your sleep challenges, consider reaching out to a sleep coach for adults.
The majority of sleep problems come down to thoughts, behaviors and lifestyle choices. A sleep coach gets to know you and creates a custom sleep strategy designed to address your specific challenges, then supplies motivation, accountability and support while you get your sleep back on track.
Final thoughts about these insomnia tips
The insomnia tips shared above aren’t meant to be a complete solution to your sleep problems. They’re simply some of the wisdom I’ve collected in my winding journey from insomniac to sleep coach.
Hopefully after reading this, you’re more inspired to look at your sleep issues from a different angle. Realize that you have more control than you think you do, and with the right approach and mindset, your relationship with sleep can take a healthy turn for the better.