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Sleep advice from an insomniac

June 10, 2011

As promised, I’ve finished a basic sleep journal template. You can download it by click here:

SLEEP JOURNAL

It can be a bit of a pain filling one of these in every day, but try it for a week or two and you or your health care provider might be able to use it recognize patterns that are interferring with your sleep. I was advised to start filling one out years ago by a doctor that diagnosed me with idiopathic insomnia and he was able to use it to pinpoint behaviour that was really messing up my sleep. In the medication part, make sure you include herbal remedies as well. In the additional notes section, put in absolutely anything you think may be relevant (if you’re the sort of person that can’t seem to shut your brain off, use that section to fill in the thoughts that are keeping you up).

I am very much the kind of person that can’t shut my brain off. I would always end up thinking “ok, what do I have to get done tomorrow?” I get around that now by writing a to-do list before I go to bed. I keep the list on my phone, which I also use as my alarm clock, so if something pops into my mind as I’m trying to sleep that isn’t on the list yet, I can just add it to the list quickly and forget about it.

Here’s a little list that the doctor shared with me and other little tidbits that you may find helpful.

*NOTE: I will not name any drugs in this entry. I do not want to promote anything for several reasons (I am not a doctor, I have no way of knowing what will work for you, and different drugs and herbal remedies have different effects on everyone).

1. Your bed should only be used for two things: sleep and sex. Anything else is very bad.

2. Get the TV out of your bedroom. I know some people like to snap back at this with “well, I always watch TV in bed and the noise helps me get to sleep.” No it doesn’t. I used to fall asleep to the TV as well, it’s not healthy. If you’re watching something intellectually engaging, you’re not giving your brain the message that it’s time to shut off. If you’re watching something really dull that’s boring you to sleep, you’ve got a steady stream of non-white noise of constantly changing pitches and stopping you from falling into a deep sleep. I used to end up waking up during the night to turn the TV off, then go right back to sleep. Even though it was only for a moment, it was still resetting my sleep cycle. If you’re watching movies on a laptop in bed, keep the computer out of your bedroom or shut it down.

3. Don’t take a hot shower before bed. Never mind the effect heat and humidity has on someone like me, you’re messing up your core temperature. If you have to shower before bed, make sure you don’t do it right before going to bed. Give your body time to cool back down to your normal body temperature.

4. Do not exercise, smoke, or ingest caffeine or alcohol 4 hours before bed. You may end up passing out quicker after a few drinks, but it’s stopping you from getting a proper, deep, restful sleep.

5. Keep a journal. Not just a sleep journal. Writing out your worries instead of letting them stew inside your head does help.Keeping a to do list like I do might help as well. Meditation can also be very helpful for relaxing and clearing your mind, but if you are feeling depressed, you might want to avoid meditation as you may end up just focusing on what is upsetting you and making you feel worse.

6. Talk to your doctor. Your sleep problems could be caused by a medical condition. The doctor can help you find out what is causing the problem and get you started on a treatment.

7. Take your medication as advised by your physician if you are prescribed a sleep aid.

8. If you are worried about side effects from your prescription, tell your doctor or pharmacist and they can go over the side effects with you. Keep a symptom journal to help watch out for side effects.

9. If you’re not on a prescription, try an over the counter sleep aid, but start slow and make sure you know what you are taking. Research what is available in your area, how strong it is, and what side effects it has. If you take something that is way too strong for you, something weaker or a lower dose may be much more helpful, but you could find yourself scared off of sleep aids because of the experience with the stronger drug.

10. If you are on a prescription, don’t let the common use of it startle you. Sometimes drugs are prescribed for their common side effects, not their intended use. There are a lot of drugs out there that cause drowsiness but weren’t developed as sleep aids. The drugs I was prescribed were intended to be used for psychotic episodes and coccaine withdrawl, despite having never touched coccaine or being psychotic. I ended up stopping the medications because they were too strong for me and have since found something over the counter that is better suited for me for occasional use.

11. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This is particularly true if you have a mixed up circadian cycle like I do.

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