Going a bit off-piste today with an attempt at writing #interesting #content as opposed to my usual stream-of-consciousness posts. I had a bad night’s sleep earlier this week & had the idea to write about insomnia, especially in light of how important rest is when you’re training – and deity knows that with 5 weeks until the British Classic, I need as many unbroken nights as I can get right now!
I’ve had insomnia in varying degrees of seriousness over the last 10-11 years (yikes). At its worst I think I went about 12 weeks of only having 2-3 hours sleep a night; at the moment I have maybe 3-4 bad nights a month. When I started getting my sleep patterns more under control, I remember the absolute relief of going to work and not feeling utterly terrible. Not being able to sleep is awful – it’s bad for all aspects of your health, physical & mental. Here are some of the things I’ve used over the years to help me catch some decent Zzzs.
Good sleep hygiene
I know, you’ve seen the advice about sleeping in a dark, cool room; going to bed at the same time every night; and not using screens before bed. You’ve seen it a hundred times. Thing is, these can really work.
The easiest one to implement is no screens; yes we all love scrolling through Twitter for 4 hours before bed, but it’s not good for us. I confess I’m not great at following my own advice – my phone lives by my bed at night, and sometimes I sneak a peek; but generally I try to stay away from my phone/iPad/TV for at least half an hour before bed.
The most difficult is probably going to bed at the same time every night. If you’re 25, the idea of not staying up until 2am on Friday night is probably anathema, but at 38 it’s no big deal for me. I tend to be thinking about bed by 10.30pm every night, and lights-off by 11.30 – yes, even on a Saturday! And even on holiday too (when I was in Vegas I think my boyfriend & I were the only people within 5 miles who were in bed before midnight!)
Epsom salt baths
I am a huge fan of Epsom salts for soothing my achy muscles, but they’re also great for sleep. A 10-15 minute soak in a warm bath with Epsom salts, followed by a glass of water and a bit of quiet time before bed, and I’ll be in the Land of Nod before you know it. I buy my Epsom salts in big bags from a local old-fashioned, no-frills chemist (aka. drugstore) but you can order them online (useful if you’re buying them 5kg at a time!). You can even get lavender-scented salts especially for helping you sleep – these look awesome.
Along the same lines as the lavender-scented Epsom salts above, I find aromatherapy is great for helping me sleep. A few months ago a friend sent me this Sleep Serenity Pillow Mist from Avon, and it’s lovely – a couple of spritzes on my pillow and I immediately feel more relaxed.
I’ve also found the scent of Lush’s Dream Cream really soothing. I started using it to heal up tattoo (which it’s been great for) and now I associate its scent of lavender & chamomile with bedtime relaxation.
One of the first apps I downloaded when I got an iPhone was Andrew Johnson’s Relax. I can’t remember who recommended it to me (it was that long ago) but it’s fantastic. It’s also available as an mp3 for those who don’t have an Android or iOS device; and while he has other podcasts specifically for promoting sleep, I find Relax to be the most…. relaxing.
This one might be a little controversial, as there are studies out there saying that herbal remedies are bunk and contain little (or no) active ingredients. So this is completely from my own experience (also I AM NOT A DOCTOR). But I have taken Quiet Life tablets on and off ever since I took my A-levels (20 years ago!) as a way to stop repetitive thoughts and ease my mind. They have also really helped me sleep when I’m having periods of panic/irritability/anxiety. Who knows, it might all be hokum and I may just be experiencing the placebo effect [insert shrug emoji]
Incidentally, there’s nothing in these things that’s banned by WADA 😉
Above & beyond all these things, there are remedies your doctor can prescribe for you. Personally I’ve taken melatonin (a prescription-only medicine in the UK, but available OTC in other countries) and tamazepam; the former is relatively gentle, the latter is more or less a chemical cosh and should only be taken under strict guidance.
I am also taking antidepressants (citalopram in my case) which were initially prescribed in part for my insomnia, and they have really helped with the inability to sleep brought on by worry/intrusive thoughts etc.
As ever, don’t do anything without talking to your GP (or other healthcare practitioner).
What are your sleepytime tips? Have you ever suffered from insomnia?