Can’t Sleep? Don’t try this!

If you have trouble sleeping, you may not qualify for a diagnosis of insomnia, but the disturbed sleep may still be significant enough to cause fatigue, stress and perhaps lower functioning. Over time, trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep, or waking up multiple times may be indicative of a more serious problem. If the disturbance persists more than six months, it should not be ignored. A diagnosis of anxiety, acute stress, or another mood disorder may be needed–and perhaps a visit to the MD to see if there may be some organic cause of the persistent sleeplessness.

In the meantime, what to do if sleep won’t come until the wee hours of the morning–until almost when it is time to get up? Let me tell you what will work and will not work. First, let’s talk about what NOT to do.

The following “techniques” will NOT work:

  • Trying your hardest to fall asleep
  • Wishing with all your might that you will fall asleep fast
  • Worrying that you are not going to fall asleep
  • Getting impatient, irritated or angry about being still awake
  • Concentrating on falling asleep
  • Praying intensely that you will be able to sleep
  • Worrying that you will be very tired in the morning

All of these fall under the category of ineffective remedies against sleeplessness because of one simple truth: the harder you try to fall asleep, the harder it will be to fall asleep.

The following techniques have a much better chance to work:

  • Give up trying to fall asleep and tell yourself, “I’ll sleep when I can”
  • Stop wishing to fall asleep and say, “I’m okay with not sleeping right now”
  • Do not worry yourself over sleeplessness: accept it as a temporary problem
  • Stay calm, be patient with your body, soothe your spirit
  • Focus your mind on pleasant memories unrelated to sleep
  • Pray for calm, peace, and acceptance
  • Accept that you may be a little tired in the morning, but tell yourself that you’ll be able to handle your day

Go through a few nights of using these techniques (a week or so) and in the meantime, use these other techniques to get some rest:

  • Catch naps of at least 10 minutes (20′ is better) whenever and wherever you can
  • Cut off the caffeine (coffee, tea, energy drinks) by 3pm each day
  • Cut off the alcohol (it is a myth that it will help you sleep better–it won’t)

You may be tempted to take medication, but beware of the numerous side effects that all these narcotics usually have. If you must take something, take melatonin or drink chamomile tea. Also, while narcotics will put you to sleep (usually, not always) they can be addictive and the sleep won’t be as restful as natural sleep.

If nothing works, see a psychotherapist, because you’ll need to start addressing the cause of your poor sleep patterns, instead of just trying to put a patch on the symptoms.