As I type this it’s 6:30 am (Pacific time), but my day started at 2:37 when I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. I know from talking to many of my readers and many of my friends that sleep trouble is a common problem, especially as we women get older.
It’s a fairly common thing for me to wake in the middle of the night and be awake for several hours. It’s been my normal since I was a young teen.
It used to frustrate me to lie awake, with the anxiety that I would have to wake up and go to school or to work in just a few hours. That stress made it even harder to fall back to sleep and stay asleep till morning. Maybe you’ve experienced that same stress. Tic Toc. Tic Toc…It makes the ticking alarm clock sound like it’s a megaphone.
9 Tips for better sleep
I’ve learned a few tips over the years to make getting back to sleep easier and faster, without sleeping pills and without tranquilizers. Taking pills to help you sleep, especially when you wake in the middle of the night, can leave you groggy and hung over at 7am. Who wants to start their day on low energy feeling drugged? Not me.
1. First of all, know that your experience is normal. In the olden days before the industrial revolution, it was common to sleep twice during the night. While today it’s common to believe that we need a full block of 8 hours of sleep every single night, in ancient times people went to sleep just after dark. Slept till they woke up — usually after about 4 hours. Then they got up and did something for a couple hours, then went back to sleep for another 2 to 4 hours.
In many cultures today it’s normal to sleep only 4 to 6 hours at night and then have a 90 minutes siesta later in the day.
While we are taught that 8 hours sleep is ideal or normal, the amount of sleep people need is individual. Some folks thrive on just 4 hours sleep a night, others need more than 8. Winston Churchill, Elon Musk, Martha Stewart, Nicola Tesla, and many other successful people slept 4 hours or less a night.
Understand your own body and aim to get the right amount of sleep each night for you. Know that you may need different amounts of sleep depending on the season of life you are in, too. I personally sleep more in winter than in summer. I also sleep less at 60 than I did at 16.
2. Find time to take a nap in the middle of the day, if you feel tired. Even a 15 minute nap can leave you refreshed and give you clarity to continue your day. Give yourself permission to rest when you need it. Even if you work full time, you may be able to catch a power nap on your coffee break. More places of work are providing couches for employees to catch some zzzs on their breaks.
3. If you waken in the middle of the night, make a cup of chamomile tea using 3 to 5 chamomile tea bags instead of just one. Cover the cup of herbal tea while it is steeping to retain the relaxing aromatic oils. The amount of tea in a commercial tea bag is not enough for a therapeutic dose. (Chamomile is from the daisy family. If you have allergies to other plants in the daisy family you may need to avoid chamomile.) Other herbs that can help with relaxation include lavender, lemon balm, skull cap, and St. Johns Wort.
4. Don’t do anything else in bed besides sleep. If you check your emails, watch television or Netflix, read a spy thriller or a murder mystery, you are training your brain that bed is a place of activity or excitement. To reprogram your brain for sleep, keep the lights low in the bedroom after 10pm, and use the bed for sleeping.
5. Try having a warm bath with Epson Salts or Dead Sea salts added (2 cups per bath tub for an isotonic bath) before bed. The magnesium and other minerals in these bath salts can relax large muscles, helping you sleep more soundly. As a bonus a mineral rich, salt bath can also relieve pain and inflammation, while helping your body fight sickness.
6. If you do wake up in the middle of the night and lie awake for more than 15 minutes, get up and go to another room. It helps to keep the lights lower during this time to help you go back to sleep. Read a book, listen to soft music, pray. If you are worrying and the worry is keeping you awake, make a list for later. Often if you can put the worry on paper you can let it go and go back to sleep.
7.St. Johns Wort tincture can help with sleep disturbances, helping you relax, reducing anxiety, and promoting sleep. If you are taking prescription medications though, check with your pharmacist before hand. St. Johns wort has known drug interactions.
8. Avoid screen time after dark and before daylight. The blue light on digital screens can inhibit sleep, while it stimulates the brain to stay alert. Use the “nightlight” function in Windows 10 to change the intensity of the screen after dark, if your job requires you to be online after dark.
9. Use a flax heating pad with lavender buds. You can make one in just 20 minutes with beginner sewing skills. The lavender soothes anxiety and helps quieten racing thoughts while promoting restful sleep. The warmth of the flax takes the chill off without overheating. It’s also good for achy muscles and sore joints. Here’s the pattern.