For something we do for nearly a third of our lives, sleep can be ding-danged difficult. I struggled with stress insomnia as a kid, and while I’m more or less over that as an adult, I now have all sorts of chronic illness related issues. Good times, right?
If you’re one of the many people out there lying awake and feeling grumpy, here’s a sampling of the techniques I’ve used over my life to get a good night’s sleep, despite whatever my chronic illness is serving up.
01 The ‘Sleep With Me’ Podcast
Good for: painsomnia, anxiety, depression, mania/hypomania, PTSD, general insomnia, just wanting some company
This podcast is such a game-changer. Some folks listen to other, more interesting podcasts when they’re trying to sleep, but others find it too easy to get wrapped up in the content. Enter Dearest Scooter: a sweet, silly dude who lulls you to sleep with his “creaky dulcet tones” and boring, winding stories. He’s honed his skills over the course of more than 600 episodes, and his work can really improve your naps and nighttime sleep.
Whether you want help sleeping or you just need some calming, low-key company, you’ll enjoy the bizarre stories he comes up with, as well as his delightfully quirky sense of humor.
Learn more about this wonderful podcast at SleepWithMePodcast.com.
02 Sleep Hygiene
Good for: anxiety, depression, mania/hypomania, general insomnia
Never heard of sleep hygiene before? No worries—it’s not as complicated as it sounds. Sleep hygiene is a set of habits you set to create the right kind of environment and associations for a good night’s sleep.
Good sleep hygiene means sticking to a schedule, of course, but also avoiding non-sleep activities and screens while in your bed. Not all of us can escape being in bed or on screens during the waking and pre-sleep hours, though, so some adjustments must be made.
If your bed is big enough, try having a “sleep” side and a “couch” side; otherwise, think about ways you can change your circumstances to signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep. Turning on a set of string lights, changing clothes, spraying scents, or even something as silly as wearing a hat can be enough to help your brain differentiate between sleep time and awake time.
As for dealing with screen time in bed, read on…
03 Blue Light
Good for: mania/hypomania, general insomnia
Blue light is everywhere: in the sun, on your screens, and even your nice energy-efficient lights. It tells your brain it’s time to be awake and alert, so it’s… well, it’s not good news before bed. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your exposure.
First, change your sleeping space. Stick to the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs where you can, or go the extra mile and get a red bulb. You can learn about the blue light emissions in different kinds of light bulbs here. No matter what you have, keep the lights lower as bedtime approaches. And, if you sleep during the day or go to bed while the sun’s still out, consider installing light-blocking curtains or blinds.
You can also change your screens! Most phones have built-in blue light blocking options (on iPhone, you’re looking for Night Mode; on Android, Blue Light Filter), and there are plenty of apps you can use in addition. In fact, you can even stack them on top of each other, if you really want to bring down your exposure. For computers, you can install f.lux. Most of these let you set up a timer to automatically change the light quality at certain times of day. And, of course, you can turn down the brightness on your screens, too.
Finally, try getting some blue light blocking glasses. You can find specialized glasses at Low Blue Lights, or get your own customs from a glasses retailer. Many of these will have pretty obviously tinted lenses, but if you’re willing to trade off a little blocking capacity, you can get barely-perceptible tints too.
Heads up, though: not enough blue light can exacerbate symptoms of depression—so be careful about balance if you trend that way. You can learn more about light therapy here.
04 Decking Out Your Bed
Good for: painsomnia, general insomnia
You’re going to sleep better if you love where you’re sleeping—so make your bed a refuge. Invest in sheets and pillows you love, fill it with stuffed animals, get a nice speaker if you like to fall asleep to music or podcasts… change your associations with that place from “where I struggle to sleep” to a “lovely place of rest.”
If you have painsomnia, or if you just love to be comfortable, make sure to get the right kind of mattress for your body, a good mattress topper, and a variety of pillows you can bolster yourself with. Make sure you have heating/cooling pads, a heated blanket, and anything else you might need for comfort. You might also want a basket to hold all these things when they aren’t in use!
If you go in for scents, try keeping your unused sheets in a drawer or box with nice-smelling sachets, and get or make sprays and diffusers for daily use. You can light a candle a little while before bed, too. Either way, you can use these scents as a mental trigger that’ll ease you into that sleepytime feeling.
Finally, keep your bed and sheets clean—and if it’s feasible, consider making it every day, so that you can feel fancy and nice crawling in for the evening.
05 Meditation and/or Journaling
Good for: painsomnia, anxiety, depression, mania/hypomania, PTSD, general insomnia
You don’t want to go into sleep with the worries of the day hanging over you, so be sure to get your head in a better place before bed.
Meditation is good for everyone. You can use your “you time” to calm yourself physically or mentally and quiet anxious thoughts. The effects may not be apparent at first, but it can make a huge difference in the long term. Start small and don’t push yourself into practices that aren’t working.
To get meditation reminders, guided meditation, and some real nice bell/gong sounds, give the Insight Timer app a spin.
If meditation isn’t your bag, or just isn’t enough to calm your swirling thoughts, you might prefer journaling before bed. You can use your journal to work through what’s on your mind, and literally set down the experiences of the day.
06 Lucid Dreaming Practices
Good for: anxiety, poor sleep patterns, nightmares, and stress dreams (especially recurring ones)
If you fear what you’ve got churning in the ol’ subconscious, you might want to read up on lucid dreaming practices.
It sounds like science fiction, but it’s totally real: lucid dreaming is when you can control your dreams, and even if you don’t get to a place of full control, a little more awareness in your dreams can help you redirect or duck out of the worst of them—especially if you have a predictable, recurring dream plaguing you. It takes real work and practice, though, so don’t expect overnight results.
It’s important to know that lucid dreaming is a double-edged sword: lucid dreaming can lead to some pretty scary experiences (sleep paralysis, hallucination, or loss of control), especially if you have a mental illness that skews your sense of reality or spend a lot of time dipping in and out of sleep. Learn more about the risks and benefits of lucid dreaming here.
If you’re ready to start learning, get some great beginner resources on HowToLucid.com, or check out this article with even more links to Lucid Dreaming articles and communities.
07 Nasal Strips
Good for: snoring and sinus issues
They look a little funny, but they are ridiculously helpful. If your nose is keeping you blocked up, making you snore, or leaving you to wake up drooling all over the place, get a pack of these bandage-like remedies and give ‘em a spin!
There isn’t much else to say about these, since they’re pretty low on side effects or contraindications. If you’re hesitating, though, just don’t let feeling silly about how you look with something on your nose keep you from sleeping well.
08 See A Sleep Doctor
Good for: everything!
Can’t end an article on sleep without encouraging you to take your health into your hands and see a doctor; they can get you a sleep study, prescribe medication or a CPAP machine, or just get you connected to the resources you need to sleep well and be healthy. If you’ve been thinking about it for a while, consider this your sign and make that call.
Sweet dreams, everyone!