An Insomniac's Guide to Sleep: How Self-talk and a Few Small Changes Can Help you Break the Cycle
By Mike Grillo, CEO and Cofounder of Gravity Blankets.
If there’s one thing the health community has taught us over the last few years, it’s that sleep is of the utmost importance to our physical and mental well-being. We now know that sleep improves short-term memory, aids in muscle recovery, and has generally been linked to reduced incidence of certain chronic diseases.
With so much emphasis on the importance of sleep, though, we've put ourselves in a strange predicament -- sleep is something that's far harder to control than diet or exercise, and what happens when it doesn’t come easily?
So begins the vicious cycle of insomnia. We know we need sleep for optimal health, but when we go through periods of sleeplessness, we stress about not being able to sleep, and in doing so, sleep becomes more elusive.
This is a cycle I once found myself in that lead to a period of chronic insomnia lasting close to a year. Luckily, I was able to find some great resources that helped put my sleep issues in perspective and introduce more healthy thought patterns and behaviors to get my sleep on track. From one former (and sometimes current) insomniac to another, here’s what I’ve learned.
Learn to Identify Irrational Thoughts About Sleep:
Just like anxiety, insomnia stems from disproportionately negative thought patterns. The best way to begin combatting your insomnia is to start deconstructing some of the negative thoughts you have about sleep, or lack thereof. Some common ones that I often found myself focusing on included:
- Tonight’s going to be another sleepless night.
- It’s going to take me forever to fall asleep tonight.
- I’m going to wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to go back to sleep.
- My day will be ruined tomorrow if I don’t sleep
When those thoughts creep in, it’s important to challenge them. Let’s take the last example, “My day is going to be ruined tomorrow if I don't sleep.” There have been countless instances where I had a bad night's sleep and still had extremely productive days at work // and very enjoyable evenings with friends. And so it turns out, this negative thought has little truth to it.
Introduce Positive Sleep Thoughts:
For every negative sleep thought I challenged, I also began to introduce more positive // healthy thoughts regarding sleep. Thoughts like:
- Sleep is relaxing and restorative. It’s a reward for all the energy you’ve expended during your day.
- Your bed is a happy place, just for you. Anxious thoughts don’t belong there.
- Falling back to sleep if you wake up during the night is quick and easy.
- Every human is born with the ability to fall asleep quickly and easily
This last point is very important to remember: humans are built to sleep - think about how easily sleep came for you as a baby or when you were younger. If you stop stressing about it, it will come naturally.
Modify Negative Sleep Behaviors and Introduce Positive Ones:
For those of you (myself included) who like easy to implement instructions, this part should be easy. There are several very tactical changes you can make in your bedtime routine to welcome sleep.
- Start winding down an hour before bedtime: If you’ve ever toiled away on your laptop answering emails right up until bedtime, it’s likely that you’ve had a hard time slowing your mind down and getting to sleep. It’s for this reason that you should try and settle into a relaxation routine about an hour before bedtime. Take a warm shower, do some light TV viewing (without your phone in your hand!!), or even try some light stretching or yoga.
- If you can't sleep, don't lay in bed: At my worst, I would say in bed for hours as sleep eluded me. Only later did I learn that by staying in bed after more than 15-30 minutes of restlessness, you're conditioning your body to associate the bed with sleeplessness. As such, if you can’t sleep after 15-30 minutes, get up and do some light reading, or listen to some calming music for a bit, and then get back in bed.
- Don't check the clock: Looking at the time will end up stressing you out and have you thinking, “if I can fall asleep in the next 15 minutes, I’ll still get X hours of sleep.” The time is the time - checking it won't change what time it is, or help you fall asleep any faster.
Invest in Your Bedroom:
Your bedroom should be a sacred, peaceful space, and of all the places to cut costs, this isn't one of them. And here's where I plug our product, the Gravity Blanket.
Yes, the Gravity Blanket is more expensive than the $60 weighted blanket you could buy on Amazon, but it's also consistently reviewed as the best-weighted blanket out there.
For something as important as your sleep, you shouldn’t feel guilty about spending a little extra money on something that’s been shown (see our official Sleep Study below) to help people sleep.