For those of you who struggle with trouble sleeping – whether it’s with falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up feeling like you have had enough sleep – I’m sure you can feel my pain. I used to pride myself as someone who could fall asleep anywhere anytime. I could sleep through a noisy renovation happening next door. I could lie in bed and be asleep within the next minute. But I guess my luck with sleep didn’t last.
I first struggled with sleep when I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism (you can read more about my journey with hyperthyroidism here). I didn’t know at the time that sleep dysfunction is a common outcome of the disorder and so, I would continue to struggle with sleep problems throughout the years after.
Because of that, I have experimented and tried various ways to overcome my struggle with going to bed. My main issue is with falling asleep and it doesn’t help that I’m a night owl either. I prefer doing my work at night which tends to eat into the time that I should be spending asleep. Once I get my body clock all haywire, it gets even more difficult to fall asleep at the timing that I want to.
Most importantly, these are the non-medicated methods that I’ve tried. I have been prescribed sleeping pills (which worked for me) but I didn’t really want to rely on it so much. Hence, my journey to look for other ways that can help me naturally fall asleep.
Disclaimer: These are all based on my personal experiences. Unfortunately, the struggle to overcome insomnia is not easy and my ways might not be the solution to your sleep problems. But I do hope that by sharing my journey, some of you might find comfort that you are not alone, and your struggle is acknowledged.
One of the things I’ve tried is imagery which is a form of meditation that can help to quiet your mind, relieve stress, and make it easier to sleep. My struggle with falling asleep is mostly because of all the thoughts that are running through my mind – I’m either going over the day I just had or I’m planning for the day tomorrow or I’m pondering some existential questions and falling down that rabbit hole.
When this happens and I know that I must sleep, I have tried different types of imagery to help clear my thoughts. For example, there are guided imagery on YouTube or Spotify where there is a narrator who will guide you through the process. It usually involves bringing back a pleasant memory or you could also imagine being in a relaxing and comfortable place.
Personally, I like to imagine a completely white surrounding and in the middle of this space, there is a white platform where my thoughts (I picture them as black in colour) can float onto. What I would do then is to imagine these thoughts slowly floating over the edge of the platform into the white nothingness that is below. After some time, I would feel relaxed enough and clear of thoughts to fall asleep.
You can play sounds to accompany your imagery, or you can also just play sounds on its own. For example, soothing sounds or music that is meant to relax and calm your mind and body. For me, I’ve always liked the sound of water, so I would listen to the sound of ocean waves or rain falling on windowpanes. There’s also something called pink noise that is made from sounds found in nature.
Just closing my eyes and focusing on a particular sound have helped me to relax enough to let sleep take over. There are plenty of resources where you can find these sounds and you would need to experiment to see which sound works for you. For those who like the sounds of nature, I have a particular video that I came across a few years ago that I would like to share – it’s on Facebook and this is the link for it. The sounds are magical but the video itself is also very relaxing.
3. Relaxing mobile games
This is probably counterintuitive as we know that looking at our mobile phones before we sleep does not help with falling asleep. But this falls into the category of tying to turn my thoughts off. I’ve found that by focusing my mind on trying to play a simple game, it helps to reduce the anxiety that accompanies my thoughts.
Also, I might have accidentally (classically) conditioned myself to fall asleep to this one game that I downloaded when I first started struggling with my sleep. I’ve forgotten the name but it’s just a really simple game of matching the same colours to reach your goal (much like the one in the picture below). I started playing it for fun before sleep but I somehow managed to condition my brain to associate this game with falling asleep. So, after a few rounds, my eyes would start to feel tired and droopy and that’s when I know I can fall asleep easier.
I have discovered that there are certain criteria for a mobile game to be able to help me feel sleepy. Firstly, it must be a very simple one where your brain does not need to overwork itself. Secondly, it shouldn’t be the exciting kind where you are battling someone, or you are racing somewhere. Basically, you don’t want to play something that would increase your heart rate or brain activity. It’s also best that the graphics are kept minimal so that your eyes do not get too stimulated from all the details. Clearly, I have given a lot of thought to this. 😅 Again, please take note that these are my personal preferences.
4. Aroma therapy
My struggle with insomnia comes and goes but due to the recent pandemic, it has really messed up my sleeping schedule and there are times where I know I have to sleep but I just can’t. One of the things I have tried recently is this Dream Diffuser. By the power of Instagram ads, I came across this Dream Melatonin Diffuser which sparked my curiosity. Note: I am not sponsored to write about them. This is my honest review after I decided to get it to try for myself.
In case you didn’t know, melatonin is a hormone that our brain produces to regulate our sleep-wake cycles. I’m explaining this in very simple terms, so if you are interested to find out more about it, please do your own research. By introducing melatonin into your body, it tricks your body into thinking that you are falling asleep which would lead you to actually falling asleep.
The Dream Diffuser is a device that contains melatonin, chamomile, and lavender and it works by puffing on the device to take in the ingredients retronasally. Rest assured, it does not contain any nicotine and it is not a vape or an e-cigarette. In fact, it is not recommended that you take in too much melatonin because that would make you feel too groggy during the day. You can read more about the product through their FAQ.
My verdict: The recommended usage is to take 7 puffs, but I decided to take about 4 puffs the first time. I felt sleepy within one hour which was great because I didn’t need to toss and turn in bed for so long. I have also tried taking only 2 puffs and that was still quite sufficient for me to feel sleepy. What I liked most about this device is that I can control how many puffs I want to take because the main problem with melatonin is that there is an ideal amount to take in depending on each individual. By having this control, I can figure out what is my ideal amount of melatonin which would help me get the quality of sleep I need.
Look out for part 2 of this article for more tips and my honest feedback on the things I’ve tried to overcome insomnia!