Photo done by Briana Haslam. Instagram @briana.designs. Facebook @briana.designs
A piece about my personal struggle with insomnia and how I manage it now.
When I was younger, I never considered myself to be an insomniac yet after years of late, restless nights without sleep, I soon realized this term fit well.
We know that sleep plays a major role in how your body and mind function. Most of us have learned this from growing up with society saying "Aim for 8 hours of sleep per night". Personally, I don't get 8 hours of sleep often. Even when trying to go to sleep early, I'm lucky if I get 7 hours. Does society leave us enough time to sleep? Does everyone have as hard of a time resting the same way I have for years? Why won't my mind shut off? These are questions I've asked myself often.
The following is a personal journey about my struggles with anxiety-induced insomnia. If you are not interested in reading a quick summary of my years of troubles, you may skip to the end for a list of what I believe to be necessary for a blissful sleep. I want to help everyone who has or is feeling the way I used to about sleep, by sharing my experience and how I manage this problem now.
Life is busy. We all have varying schedules but we all need to make time to sleep. Without it, our body cannot survive. Rest allows mammals to grow, repair and rejuvenate for the upcoming day. As I've said many times before, not enough rest leads to burnout which can be hard to recover from.
Insomnia is common throughout young adults. The Canadian Sleep Society (CSS) describes insomnia as "a condition that involves dissatisfaction with sleep quality or duration, along with problems falling asleep at bedtime, waking up in the middle of the night, or awakening too early in the morning". This can become "a clinical problem when a person experiences trouble falling or staying asleep several nights per week and these difficulties cause distress or impairments of daytime functioning such as fatigue, decreased energy, mood disturbances, or concentration problems". (CSS, 2018).
If this sounds like something you are used to, do not over-stress. Insomnia can be acute or chronic, depending on the individual. It can result from a variety of stressors and each body responds differently.
You may not be sleeping because you have an important date coming up or an interview for a new job. This is known as acute insomnia and will most likely disappear after your stressor is gone.
If you aren't sleeping for a prolonged time, this is considered chronic insomnia. It may be when you are anxious, over-thinking or living with a mental illness; This is when you need to notice your insomnia and start to make some healthy lifestyle changes.
My personal fight with insomnia began back in high school. Staying up late texting and scrolling on my phone always left my mind racing before bed. I was introduced to Melatonin and began to give it a try. This hormone is produced in the Pineal Gland in your brain and taking a melatonin supplement aids in re-starting your sleep cycle. Melatonin is great and can help your body get back into it's normal sleep schedule, however, using it for too long results in an increased tolerance. After about a full bottle of melatonin, you will start to notice it does not put you to sleep as easily anymore. I realized I needed to try something else.
I then noticed that Advil PM always knocked me out for the night. In high school, I was a busy athlete with consistent injuries so I lived off ibuprofen. I got into a habit of taking night time NSAID's before sleep every night. Thankfully, I realized this was not healthy for my body anymore even though I could easily get 8 uninterrupted hours of rest. I wanted to try something more natural.
I then tried 5-HTP, GABA and melatonin (separately and all together) and still my mind would not stop running. These products are more natural, producing different neurotransmitters and hormones to encourage healthy sleep. I enjoy them all but they were not enough. There are a variety of sleeping supplements that have multiple products combined in one. "Tranquil Sleep" by Natural Factors is a great product, containing L-Theanine, 5-HTP & Melatonin. I find it may help put me to sleep if I take 2-3. Is that realistic for myself to take 2-3 of these every night? When will my tolerance increase again so they do not work as effectively?
Needed to try something new.
Another product I tried was "Sleep Aid" by Kirkland. It is a doxalymine succinate supplement that "helps reduce the difficult of falling asleep". This is a harsher substance, however, I have found it works best. I am still taking it when I cannot sleep, but only half a pill. I try not to take these types of pills before sleeping but if I am feeling anxious or energetic before sleeping, I usually have to take any of them to actually fall asleep.
Insomnia from anxiety is hard to understand if you haven't experienced it. There were nights of staying up till 3-4 AM, thinking about things I shouldn't be worrying about. My mind did not give my body the choice of sleeping at all, which lead to drowsy school days and extra long naps. I started my antidepressant during my 2nd year of college and noticed a bit of a difference if I took it at a certain time of day but would still have nights of sleeplessness.
You can't just tell anxiety to stop. It doesn't work that way. The medication helps but it does not get rid of your mental illness. My friend once told me, anxiety will always be there, you need to learn how to manage it.
Throughout these years of trial and error, I had learned that many of my family members had also been dealing with this problem their entire lives. It bothers me that not all of us can easily find a proper solution to the problem. Overthinking will never stop if you ask it too. You need to find ways to distract yourself, to create positive thoughts, allowing your body and mind to rest properly.
This experimenting with supplements lead me to start researching marijuana as a sleep and anxiety aid. I am now very committed into using CBD. I know this can be a controversial subject for many traditional people, however, marijuana has been proven in many scientific studies to work for those who are suffering from no sleep. CBD (Cannabidiol) is a solution for many. CBD is the non-psychoactive part of the marijuana plant and does not produce a "high" but a connection with your neurotransmitters to create a therapeutic affect. It has many medicinal uses such as relief of insomnia, chronic pain, epilepsy and anxiety/depression. Since this is extracted from a plant on our earth, I have faith that it can be used in many ways to benefit us humans.
CBD can be found in oils, tinctures, creams, pills, powders or dried leaf. It's anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic effects have been studied for years and are finally becoming more accepted in our current society. If used properly, CBD is not a drug; It is medicine. I recommend trying CBD to see if you notice any benefits to your sleep, although like everything else, it is not a "cure-all".
CBD Indica is more effective for relaxing while Sativa is more energizing for the body and mind. ( I purchase mine from Westculture.ca )
CBD has become a necessary part of my nighttime routine. I rarely sleep without it.
In addition to the use of CBD, I have incorporated a small yoga practice into my nightly routine. This allows my body to full relax, preparing itself for blissful rest. I breathe deep, roll out my back and lie on the floor for at least 5 minutes before bed. I encourage you all to try this. Focus on your breath and body. Mentally watch your thoughts go by like clouds in the sky. Not stopping on any of them, just observing.
Likewise, the use of lavender allows myself to deepen these sensations. In my most recent blog post, I wrote about my favourite essential oils and how they have positively affected my life. Lavender is my #1 stress reliever. I oddly go places without it and I most likely will not sleep without a whiff. It is great in a diffuser, or gently rubbed on your temples and wrists.
As well as Lavender, I always rub Peppermint oil on my temples before bed to relieve my headaches.
All of these products/rituals I perform or use have very much changed how I view sleeping, making it easier to accomplish that full 8 hours. It has taken me 4-5 years of testing out different solutions to find what works for me best. I am still in the process of experimenting with what my body needs but this is what has worked for me so far.
What I am trying to get at is, you need to create a simple, calming nighttime routine for yourself if you are still struggling with insomnia. You cannot just lay down, stare at your screen and expect your body to sleep. You need to understand it may take time and effort. A relaxing sleep is not too far away once the effort is put in. You may need to take a supplement or medication, do not be ashamed of that. Try out something new.
I am still struggling with this. I do not sleep properly every night. These rituals I have began for myself allow my body and mind to become more calm before bed. I still have to take anti-anxiety medication and a sleep aid. I am hoping to one day be off everything but unsure when that will happen.
Another photo by Briana Haslam. @briana.designs
Here are some steps to encourage a better sleep for yourself.
To begin, try to find out what is making you not able to sleep. ELIMINATE THE STRESSORS. Are you anxious? Worried? Stressed? Figure out what is causing your mind to stay awake and eliminate it. I like to calm my anxiety by using essential oils, stretching and breathing deeply. Find something that works for you, whether that is reading, drawing or petting your dog. Get rid of the problem.
Secondly, create an environment that will aid in relaxation. SET THE MOOD FOR SLEEPING. Eliminate the light, noise and distractions. You could try sleeping with earplugs or an eye mask. Set your electronics away from your bed. Give yourself space. An essential oil diffuser is necessary in my opinion. The quiet sound of the water relaxes my nervous system. Try out lavender and eucalyptus (what I have found that works best to knock myself out).
Thirdly, TRY RELAXATION TECHNIQUES. Personally, I feel like I have tried every technique in the book. I used to google "ways to fall asleep fast" most nights as a kid and see how they would help me. There is the 6-7-8 breathing technique to try (Inhale for 6 seconds, hold for 7, exhale for 8). This is not easy and requires some brain power but can work for many people as they will eventually drift into sleep. There are other techniques you can try such as counting sheep, counting backwards from 100 or reading a book before bed.
Finally, if your insomnia results from anxiety remember YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I struggled with this the most in high school. I did not think anyone else felt the same as I did. I thought there was something wrong with me and that was why I could not sleep. Many people are struggling with sleep and there are ways to help all of us get more rest; we need to stay more open about the topic to help others.
ANXIETY IS NORMAL. IT DOES NOT MAKE YOU CRAZY. I always hear people say "You worry too much" but I cannot help it. I have learned to embrace my anxiety as something unique about myself and my extreme empathy towards others. My anxiety lets myself know when I should be aware, appreciate my senses and overpower the feeling of fear.
Insomnia can take over your life. It can ruin your mood. Make your day miserable. You need to notice how it affects your body and decide it is time to try something new. There are ways out there for everybody to sleep, it may take some effort to figure them out. You may need a new bed, a different nighttime routine or a fresh attitude. There is something out there for everyone.
Listed below is what I personally have found to be necessary for myself to get a good night's sleep.
1. CBD (Whether this is in oil, leaf, edibles or tinctures)
2. Essential Oil Diffuser with Lavender (The sound and scent are mandatory for my brain to relax)
3. Melatonin or a "Sleep Aid" (I try to not take these all the time, but I physically cannot sleep without them. Aim for a natural supplement.)
4. A proper nighttime routine (Shower, lotion, stretch)
5. Yoga before bed. Calm your senses.
6. Glass of sleepy-time tea. (Chamomile, peppermint, no caffeine).
7. Peppermint oil on temples. Relieves stress and pain.
I hope this article provided some important information to those who may have been struggling the same as I have. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask me. My goal is to help as many people as I can by opening up about my personal struggles and offering help to those who may not ask for it.
Thank you for reading how I try to flourish with sleep.
The photos for this article were graciously done by an extremely talented friend, Briana Haslam. Her illustrations represent the struggles I have experienced from anxiety-induced insomnia very well. Show her some love and check out her Facebook or Instagram page @briana.designs. Thanks Bri!