Do you ever have trouble getting to sleep?
A thousand thoughts running through your head and you can’t switch them off?
The anxiety starts to set in as you lie awake and the minutes tick by before it’s time to get up again and face the world.
This is something I’ve struggled with since I was a kid. I used to get songs stuck in my head. I used to think of every scary movie I’d ever seen. I used to worry about things that had happened that day. Or things that might happen tomorrow.
And these days, I’m usually planning out all the ideas I have. Because, ya know, midnight is way more fun to have brain sparks and light bulb moments than the rest of the day when I’m ready and waiting to actually do something about it.
No matter what you’re thinking about (or what got your brain so worked up in the first place), if you ever have trouble getting to sleep because you’re too wired, buzzed, or brain overloaded to get to sleep, here are some things that might help you wind down at night and get better sleep).
First, you need to know about optimal levels of stimulation.
This is something I first learned about reading Quiet by Susan Cain and delving a little deeper into the brilliant work of Dr Brian Little.
Just like we all sit at different points on the introvert/extravert spectrum, we also all have an optimal level of stimulation. And what does this mean? Our nervous system has a level that it needs to be at in order for us to perform our best.
For extraverts, they are usually low reactive, meaning that activities or situations that have low levels of stimulation can make them sleepy and under stimulated. Dr Brian Little often jokes that an extravert doesn’t have one smart phone, they have three, and they’ll be driving a car with the stereo blasting, the air con on super cold, and be doing stuff on their phone at the same time. My partner is low reactive and he falls asleep reading. When I told him to put some Dubstep on while he reads, he actually found that to be the only thing that got him through.
Me, on the other hand, and other high reactive, introverted (and/or highly sensitive types) are the complete opposite. More often than not, we are OVER stimulated, meaning that big crowds, loud noises, bright lights, and music while reading are just too much for us to handle. That’s why we are more likely to be found reading quietly, journalling, spending time in quieter places with less people.
If we are over stimulated, our nervous system goes into overdrive.
Depending on the situation, time of day, or individual, this can lead to frustration, anxiety, physical symptoms (like headaches), and not being able to sleep.
Next, pay attention to what you’re doing before bed.
I know that I can’t be on the computer writing or doing anything work-related up to an hour before I go to bed. Otherwise my brain cannot switch off (cue light bulb moments, writing entire articles or parts of my book in my head, and idea mapping all happening in my brain once the lights go out).
One of the members at our gym told me she can only train at night and she loves it, but she can’t go to sleep because she’s so buzzed when she gets home.
When my partner is reading and listening to his aforementioned doof doof music, I have to leave the room or ask him to put headphones on, otherwise even that can amp me up too much so I can’t sleep.
If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, start paying attention to what you do before bed and look for patterns or certain over-stimulating situations that might be affecting you.
Observe what affects your energy or stimulation levels and make small changes.
This might mean going to the gym in the morning instead of night, or getting your work done during the day. It might mean switching off all electronic devices an hour before bed, or choosing a lower stimulation activity, like reading, instead. Whatever you’ve realised could be triggering your nervous system, try and make small changes to see if that helps. If you can’t change things based on your schedule or commitments, what else can you do to lower your stimulation levels before getting into bed? Can you change the music you listen to in the car on the way home (or leave the room if your partner listens to Dubstep!)?
Create a bedtime routine.
My best friend actually taught me about this when we were in high school. I remember her once telling me that if she couldn’t get to sleep, instead of lying in bed stressing about it, she would get back up and repeat some of her nighttime routines, such as brushing her teeth again.
It sounds so simple, but we’re creatures of habit and our brains can be wired this way.
I train at nighttime too and can sometimes be pretty buzzed after training but I’ve instinctively created a night time routine that helps me wind down after a busy evening.
- Showering and putting my PJ’s on straight away;
- Foam rolling (also helps prevent muscle soreness the next day);
- Having a glass of water and magnesium or electrolytes;
- Brushing my teeth;
- Putting on a guided meditation or some really soothing music and lying in the dark before bed.
To each their own, by the time we close up at the gym, it’s pretty late. You might get home from work, the gym, or other evening commitments and have dinner to make, kids to get to bed, and a host of other things to do that keep you busy right up until bed time. But even taking 15 minutes to tune in and chill out could make all the difference.
Find what works for you.
Finding your own optimal level of stimulation is such a personal thing. And so is finding the thing, or combination of things that help you wind down and get to sleep. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you find what works for you.
This list of 30 things you can do to chill out and re-energise can also be used as a guide to help you find what calms you down, not just at night, but any time you’re feeling overwhelmed, overstimulated, or just plain frazzled.
Do you ever have trouble getting to sleep? Let us know in the comments if this works for you, or if you already have a bedtime routine that helps you wind down and get to sleep.