Most of us have the occasional problem getting to sleep when we go to bed. With some, it’s much more often than just occasionally. Insomnia is a symptom, not a disease. It is an inability to sleep even when tired. It becomes the enemy, and when we fight it, we give it energy and make it real, so sleep becomes almost impossible.
There are so many causes of insomnia, and each person reading this column is bound to say, “That’s me,” for some of them. Here are a few: burnout, chemicals, caffeine, alcohol, sleeping pills, pillows, mattresses, overheating, overcooling, poor ventilation, noise, too much activity, being too tired or not tired enough. Tomorrow’s problems, yesterday’s problems, tonight’s problems. Most insomnia is caused by anxiety — psychological factors such as tension or depression, physical illness, death in the family, adrenal exhaustion.
So let’s take a look at dealing with some of these causes. For instance, caffeine takes six to eight hours to leave the body; nicotine can have the same effect. Our bodies rapidly become used to sleeping pills, and often need more and more, and they can be psychologically addictive. (Relaxation doesn’t come in a bottle!) With alcohol, three or four hours after a drink there’s an exciting of the sympathetic nervous system, similar to the fight or flight response. It often awakens people with a feeling of anxiety and restlessness.
The first key to a good sleep is letting go — of the irritation, the worry, all the negative thoughts, feelings, tensions and stress. There are many, many way to let go. Here are a few suggestions:
•Being grateful, prior to bedtime: Reflect over the day and pick three things for which you feel grateful (warm water in your shower, sunrise, a hug). Relive and enjoy these experiences. Again, reflect over the day and select three things you feel good about (saying no, supporting a friend, taking time for a swim). Relive and re-experience those positive moments.
•Colour therapy: Blue is the colour of acceptance, and is very calming. Concentrate on visualizing being wrapped in a lovely, soft, blue blanket; picture a softly rolling blue sea whose waves gently rock you to sleep; or a deep blue twilight with birds nestling in for the night.
•Meditation: Dr. Herbert Benson, in his wonderful book, Relaxation Response, found that the body’s metabolism drops further during a 20-minute meditation than it does during eight hours of sleep. It’s worth a try, isn’t it?
•Sending it down the river: While lying in bed with your eyes closed, see yourself sitting or lying by the bank of a gently flowing creek or river. You are surrounded by flowers. Visualize a boat in the water (often, the boat appears “all by itself”), place the problem, situation or person that has been bothering you in the boat, and fill it with some of the flowers that are around you. Then, with positive, caring thoughts, send the boat down the creek or river, and watch it go around the bend and out of sight. You will find that the situation is no longer keeping you from sleep.
There are many more ways to deal with insomnia, but hopefully I’ve been able to point you in the right direction. And my husband offers this consolation to many of us more senior seniors: “You are not an isolated case if you have to get up and pee every two hours!”
Good luck, and have a restful sleep tonight!