Insomnia Answers

What is good for insomnia?

Hi Ethel! Thank you so much for asking this vital question! I can tell that you are feeling curious and are interested in discovering some tips, perhaps some new ideas, as well as guidance, on how to manage insomnia. I can certainly relate to your concern that you have been experiencing trouble sleeping throughout the night. What is your current evening routine? It sounds like you are having trouble staying asleep. Are you also having trouble falling asleep, as well? I know that you mentioned in your question that you have recently been experiencing insomnia. How long have you been experiencing insomnia? These are some of the important questions that you may want to address with your therapist or primary care doctor. The first thing that comes to mind for me when it comes to managing insomnia is to establish a sleep routine. Take some time to identify the patterns of sleep that you notice that you are experiencing. Start by simply observing your sleep patterns and begin to make changes as you go. I recommend keeping a sleep diary, if that is at all possible. The BetterHelp platform offers a worksheet on sleep hygiene as well as an example of a sleep diary that may be helpful for you. In addition to starting a sleep diary, I recommend utilizing aromatherapy techniques. This strategy may help you to feel more relaxed and calm in the evenings. For example, you may want to purchase a scented pillow, a body or room spray, or a scented eye mask. I believe that lavender is a popular scent for people to use to stay asleep. It may be a good idea to test a few different scents out and see which one appeals to you and which one brings you the feeling of relaxation. Perhaps vanilla or jasmine might be other scents that you could try. If you are waking up in the middle of the night, you can utilize aromatherapy in order to focus on falling back to sleep. I am not sure if you were doing this already, but it would be a good idea to shut off all electronics and screens an hour or two before bed. Turning off your cell phone, the TV and any other blue light device, such as a laptop or computer, will likely be beneficial for you and your sleep cycle. Sleep education is going to be key so do what you can to learn about the various stages of sleep. It would be great if you could read a book or a magazine as a means to relax before bed. Keep a consistent schedule, such as adhering to the same bedtime and wake time every day. These ideas will hopefully be beneficial for you! In addition to the aforementioned strategies, I recommend relaxation strategies. Relaxation techniques include mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and guided visualization. These are just some examples of relaxation techniques that you can try any time, from the comfort of your home. Listening to audio clips on the topic of mindfulness might be a great idea for you! Here is a resource to a website that I recommend: https://wellness.mcmaster.ca/your-health/mindfulness-and-relaxation/ It may be a good idea to practice these techniques while you are awake and during the day in order to feel more comfortable with implementing these strategies in the moment when you are awakening at night. One thing that I tell my clients is that if you are awake, laying in bed and can not sleep for more than thirty minutes, take about twenty minutes to get out of bed and do a different task, such as an epsom salt foot bath, listening to music or reading a story. The idea is that it is best to leave the bed and the room you are sleeping in, refocus your energy on something else and return to the bed feeling refreshed and ready to try to sleep again. You can certainly learn more about these strategies and techniques in individual therapy sessions. You may want to try some holistic modalities, as well. This may include massage therapy, acupuncture, art therapy, herbal supplements and more! It is up to you what you decide to try and be patient with yourself in the process! Thank you for giving me more information about what you have been worried about. I think it makes sense that you are worried about your son. It can be difficult, as a parent, to stop worrying about a child, no matter what age they are at. In order to combat your feelings of worry, I recommend making a worry chest. You can design a container to your liking and use sticky notes or scrap pieces of paper to write your worries on and fold them up and place them in the container. Know that your worries are safe in a place that you have made for them. Allow the worries to exist and give yourself the time you need to rest. You can always revisit your worries again in the morning. I can tell that you are feeling lonely. What is it like for you to live alone? I can only imagine what it must be like for you to be a widow for fifteen years. What has that experience been like for you? I think that it is a great goal to try to meet someone new and go on a few dates. That seems like it would be helpful for you! I recommend utilizing a positive affirmation in the evening as a means to comfort yourself and wind down before you go to sleep. An example of a positive affirmation for sleep could be: "I will get a good night sleep tonight. I give myself permission to rest. I know that when I feel tired, that it is time to relax my mind and body and get some sleep." It sounds like a positive aspect of your life is taking classes at the local YMCA and spending a good amount of time with your friends. I encourage you to keep doing that! Thank you again, Ethel, for your time in asking this important question related to insomnia!
(LMHC, ATR-P, MS, NCC)
Answered on 09/14/2022

How can I get my sleep schedule back on track?

I am so sorry to hear that you are struggling with your sleep and the negative symptoms that is causing.  It will be important to recognize when your feelings have a purpose versus when they do not.  We of course want positive feelings in our lives, but sometimes negative feelings are there for a reason and we need to live out that purpose in order for it to get better.  If we do not live out the purpose of our feelings, it likely leads us to feel worse.  For example, something as simple as having anxiety about needing to get the chores done has the purpose of getting us motivated to get the chores done.  Therefore, if we do not live out that purpose and the chores remain undone, that can lead to more bad feelings, such as, “I am lazy” or “I am worthless.”  This is a simple example of how if we do not pay attention to our feelings and live out the purpose, they can become much, much worse.  So, I would encourage you to try and separate out the thoughts that have a purpose from the thoughts that do not have a purpose and are more intrusive.    For the ones that do have a purpose, it can be helpful to allow yourself to think through the anxious thoughts because anxiety has a nasty way of going to the worst possible scenario.  If you can wrap your head around that scenario, it can make it less scary.  For example, I had a client that was very anxious daily about being single for the rest of his life.  Thinking to that extreme is clearly anxiety and it just lingers there.  So, then he was able to think through that scenario and come up with a plan to make it less scary.  He then came up with that if he really is going to be single the rest of his life, which is highly unlikely, he is going to work towards being able to live close to the ocean since that is a dream of his.  Thinking about it now does not make him as scared because he recognizes he could be happy with that. So, try to think through specific things you are anxious about that have a purpose and make sure you have a specific plan on how to improve those things. For example, having a specific plan for how to address specific anxieties you have before bed time or during the night.   Intrusive thoughts tend to not have a purpose and it can be really helpful to try and overpower those before they are accepted as truths.   We can have power over our thoughts and I want to help you not engage in these thoughts that make you so upset.  The easiest example of this that I can think of is if I went skydiving.  If I went skydiving I would have some obvious, rational, anxious thoughts.  If I really have a desire to skydive though I will need to not engage in those thoughts.  I might have thoughts such as, "My parachute could fail, I will hit the ground, I am going to pass out, etc."  However, since I really want to follow through with skydiving, I would want to stop those thoughts in their tracks with, "I know this is going to be really fun, they inspect the parachutes ahead of time, people hardly ever get hurt doing this, etc."  By focusing on those thoughts and not engaging in the others, I would be able to follow through with skydiving. Try to sort through any thoughts that get you down about yourself and that you can’t handle all of this and try to overpower those.  These types of thoughts are very common when dealing with this kind of lack of rest.      As you do those processes it can be helpful to validate yourself as someone of worth and that has been able to get through challenges in your past.  Something that could be helpful for you is what I like to call centering thoughts.  These are thoughts that are predetermined and unique to you for you to turn to in low moments.  They need to be powerful enough to bring you back to your center.  It is important that these thoughts are accessible for you to look at when you need to.  Some clients prefer to read and re-read them and some prefer to write and re-write them until they feel better.  I have clients that write these somewhere they will see daily such as their bathroom mirror or phone background, while others simply have them in their phone to pull out when they need to.  An example of a centering thought would be from a client I had that related to nautical themed things and her thought was, "I will not let this sink me."  Another example is from an Olympic skier that actually had difficulties with negative thinking getting in the way of her performance so she went to therapy.  She mentioned that she learned about centering thoughts to battle all of the people telling her she “should be” or “should do.”  To battle those thoughts, she uses the simple centering thought of, “I am.”  She can then remind herself that she is good enough, that she is confident, and that she does want to still compete, which really affirms her own feelings and not others.  Hopefully you can come up with something that helps validate your worth and abilities to move forward.       I hope that some of this is helpful and that you can apply it to your circumstances.  I hope that you can lean on some family and/or friends through this.  Doing so can help take weight off of your shoulders as well as hopefully get some valuable advice from them. Try to take the healing one day at a time and adding one positive thing back into your life each day. I wish you all the best and I hope that you are staying safe.
(MA, LPC, NCC)
Answered on 06/30/2022

How to deal with insomnia anxiety and depression

Thank-you for reaching out to better help for assistance. I look forward to assisting you. Sounds like you are saying you fall asleep but you wake up in the middle of the night and than you have trouble going back to sleep. Sounds like it becomes more difficult with your anxiety and depression.  I would suggest you get a good physical check up with your medical doctor, to make sure everything is okay physically and see what the medical doctor would suggest. I am sure this is frustrating that you wake up in the middle of the night and than can't get back to sleep. That is a horrible feeling to be lying in bed and not be able to go to sleep. I am sure this makes you more anxious and depressed. Are you taking any medication for your depression and anxiety. If you are, talk with your doctor about possible side effects for these medications. Also are you having dreams or nightmares at night, when you go to sleep. Nightmares and dreams could make it harder to back to sleep. Also you want to have a good sleep hygiene program. You can talk to a medical doctor about a good sleep hygiene program, google one and I will talk about it here some. For good sleep hygiene, you want to have a comfortable and relaxing place to go to sleep, no caffeine or eating after a certain time, prior to bed. You don't want to be looking at a computer screen alot prior to bed. The blue light can affect your sleep. You want to practice some good relaxation skills. Some good relaxation skills are deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. With deep breathing, just breath in deeply through your nose, hold for 4 seconds and blow out your mouth. This will get good oxygen to your brain. Oxygen is food for your brain. With progressive muscle relaxation you will get a good deep sleep. I would suggest trying this one. You can download a 15 minute progressive muscle relaxation video, on you tube, lie down on your bed or somewhere else, close your eyes and listen to the person talking your through the progressive muscle relaxation exercise. People say it puts them to sleep and it is a good deep sleep. It also takes away headaches. I would suggest you try both of these relaxation tips but really try the progressive muscle relaxation exercise. I wish you the best and look forward to hearing from you. Thank-you for allowing me to assist you with this problem. 
(LPC, NCC, MS)
Answered on 01/22/2021