Back in December, I posted on Instagram about how my intermittent insomnia has returned to haunt me. ‘Help’, I asked, ‘Anyone beaten the insomnia beast? Or have a trick for managing it better than I seem to be?’ Well, it seems hundreds of you do, actually (and there are plenty of fellow sufferers). I promised to let you know how I got on – so here it is: an absolute bevy of insomnia-tackling tips.
Firstly, let me send you huge, heartfelt sympathy if you suffer from sleep issues. It can be so debilitating, the ripples can all areas of you life (mood, health, emotions, work, family…..). I have been there. I feel your pain.
But I am currently an insomnia-free zone. Hurrah. But, the thing is, I threw so many things at it that I don’t know which of the below is the magic bullet, or – more probable – what combination.
I do know that worrying is a major trigger for my insomnia. Fact: I am a worrier. Fact: things are always darker at night (that proverb about the darkest hour being just before the dawn is literally true). I can’t change my nature – what I can change is how I deal with my worries. This is where the Headspace app comes in – as recommended by sleep specialist Dr Allie Hare. (Other recommended apps: Andrew Johnson’s Relax; Digipill; Relax Melodies.)
I also like the really simple exercise recommended by wellbeing writer, Kate Faithfull Williams (do check out her new blog, Hey, Where Did My Day Go): a nightly gratitude exercise. Simply list three things you’re thankful for that day but be really specific. So my list for today might run: chatting with some really lovely and inspiring women at the Hush breakfast (the floral arrangements made me feel pretty grateful, too); my little boy cuddling up to me, laying his head against my arm whilst we read his bedtime story – saying “oh, the dignity!” like Gordon the engine; how nice it was that my husband didn’t have to work all evening and we cooked and ate supper together.
First up, yoga. I hurt my arm before Christmas and, for fear of making it worse, I laid off the yoga. More fool me. I sleep better, more deeply, and fall asleep faster when I’ve practised yoga during the day. (I tend to find the time in the evenings, when the children are abed – which possibly has an impact?) My sister-in-law, Sarah – founder of YogaGro – recommended the Viparita Karani (aka ‘legs up the wall’) position – more info here.
This all chimes with people’s advice to take more exercise (Someone suggested getting a dog. This is a bridge too far for me, but if you’re an insomniac and thinking of getting one – it might just be your golden ticket to 8 hours sleep.) I have to admit that the best nights tend to follow yoga and sex – so there you go: insomnia can be good for your relationship.
(Speaking of this – if you’re 40+ and your insomnia is getting worse, several people suggested getting your hormones checked, as the perimenopause can make sleep issues worse. If nothing else, it’s good to eliminate it as a cause – or (on the flipside) be able to do something about it if that is the root of the problem.)
So many people swore by magnesium that I had to give it a whirl. Jo Saunders, a Nutritional Therapist at NatureDoc and co-founder of Cooking Them Healthy, recommends Wild Nutrition and Biocare. She also advocated a 20-minute not-too-hot (sorry, Jo, I love hot baths too much…) soak in a bath dosed with Epsom Salts (Sarah sent me these, which make your bathroom smell like a lavender field). I’ve also tried and loved Bloom & Blossom’s Night Time Ritual. Beauty guru Rachel Fiddes recommends Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax Bath and Shower oil– applied neat on pulse points, chest and the soles of the feet. I’ve been using Neom Organics’ new Perfect Night’s Sleep Face Oil which a. smells amazing; b. helps you sleep; and c. improves your skin almost immediately. Finally, I have no idea what alchemy is happening when you wear a Space Mask, but the warmth and delicious, jasmine-infused scent definitely does something good.
I also looked at what I was putting into my body: health coach and author Lizzie Loves Healthy swears by cherry juice (for more, read her blog post here) which has the benefit of being delicious. (It’s also meant to make your children sleep for longer…. Just a thought.) I’m not a big coffee-drinker (and I don’t drink tea at all. I know: can I really be British?), but whilst I can’t bring myself to cut out caffeine altogether, I can make sure I have the two cups I allow myself before 12pm. Nor can I cut out sugar – but I can be more mindful about how much I do eat (sweetening my porridge with cinnamon and bananas, for instance). Another tip was to eat a banana before bed. (I’m not sure that the banana bread I made this week counts….) Other tips (not yet tried by me): Bimuna Probiotics and Cytoplan’s Cyto-Night.
I am less strict than Alex – who puts her phone in a drawer in the evening – but I have been (attempting to) steeer clear of those peskily tempting screens after 8pm(ish). I do not always succeed. But I try. (So if I haven’t read The Times on my ipad by then, my chance is gone.) You could also try blue light blocking glasses to off-set the deleterious effect of artificial light.
Finally, I try to remember this: there is no point worrying about things that have yet to happen. And, when sleep eludes me altogether, not to panic, because this, too, shall pass.
1. Bloom & Blossom Pillow Spray, £15, Bloom & Blossom; 2. Space Masks, £15 for 5; 3. Aromatherapy Associated Deep Relax bath and shower oil , £49; 4. Epsom Salts, £7.99; 5. Montmorency Cherry Juice, £12.16