About a year ago, I developed insomnia after using a device to "help improve healthier brain wave patterns." My insomnia especially showed up as waking up several hours before my intended awakening time and being unable to fall back asleep. So, I dove deep into studying sleep and improving it naturally and holistically, including reading a book by best-selling author and Director of the UC Berkeley sleep lab, Dr. Matthew Walker, entitled "Why We Sleep." I experimented with many interventions with myself, and these are the results of my curing my own insomnia in 30 days.
One of the things I've learned is that the second half of our sleep cycle is where we have most of our REM sleep. REM sleep reflects our conscious state and the brain waves are very similar. It is basically where we work out conflicts in our lives, solve problems, and integrate material we have been exposed to both during the previous day and even before that if issues and problems still remain. So, the more stress you have in your life the more problems you're going to have with your dreams and your REM sleep. I like the idea of working on your stress during the day rather than waiting until it all piles up and trying to do it all before bedtime. That makes absolute sense. Learning about heart coherence and deep breathing is very important. Meditation can be very helpful but it has to be used properly. Just sitting there quietly observing your stressful thoughts can often make people more stressed. Some people need guided meditations like some of the ones mentioned here. Guided hypnotherapy. Think about the themes that you are experiencing that are making you anxious or stressed and look up some free guided meditations to deal with that. Also yoga and Tai chi are a way to meditate while moving the body which is less stressful for some people than sitting absolutely still. I always do these before bed. These also get tension and stress out of the body which helps the body relax and the mind relax and sleep improves.
I have some other suggestions. Alcohol and other toxins that when ingested are typically processed out by the body during the second half of the sleep cycle which is when your REM sleep is occurring. This will cause more disruption and wakefulness. This also includes prescription medications. I would never ever advise anyone to take prescription medications for any chronic condition especially to induce sleep. A nice valerian root tea with passion flower or hops in the evening or maybe chamomile or kava kava will be helpful, but not too much liquid before bed which will make you have to get up at night to go use the bathroom. Magnesium before bed is also awesome as Epsom salt baths, which will help the magnesium absorb directly into your body through your skin. Keeping your Vitamin D levels healthy is very important and will impact your stress levels and your overall mental health. Not to mention your immune system. I also love CBD but the problem is it seems to make me somewhat constipated the next day, but I have found that taking 1 TSP of the Ayurvedic formula of tripala powder (a combination of 3 dried fruits), mitigates that. I have also found a supplement called GABA Soothe which contains GABA and l-theanine and ashwagandha. My clients swear that it helps with their anxiety and I believe it helps me too.
Food eating too near bedtime or food with a lot of toxicity also functions in the same manner to disrupt the later half of the sleep cycle. The quality of the food you eat is also important. Consider a plant-based diet with a lot of organic options and lots of fruits and vegetables with lesser amounts of legumes and seeds. Google nutritarianism by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Watching some kind of violent or stressful media within several hours of bedtime is also not advised. Nor is having a significant workout too late in the evening. HRV goes down after a workout until the body recovers. Zero out the blue light from screens for several hours before bed. As far as dealing with the issue in the middle of the night when you actually do wake up, I do not advise getting out of bed and trying to do other things. In my mind that will train the body to wake up when you don't want it to wake up. Rather lie in bed and practice deep breathing, holding your heart with one or two hands, even practicing a strategy called tapping which has also been called the emotional freedom technique or thought field therapy. You can Google it. It's not hard to learn. There are many guided sessions on YouTube. Look up a woman named Julie Schiffman. It's all about learning to love and accept yourself no matter what's happening including you being awake in the middle of the night. This is all just information. It's a communication from your body to your mind that something is not resolved in your life and needs more of your attention and love. When I am able to maintain that kind of attitude then I can let go and return back to sleep. Think about it. If you are lying there telling yourself that something is wrong and something is bad then your sympathetic nervous system will kick in and start releasing stress hormones and changing your blood flow and blood pressure and body temperature etc. This is going to keep you away. You have to relax and let it go. Say a prayer. As for support from your higher power. Anyway those are my thoughts. I hope you all have an awesome day.
Here are some specific suggestions. Wear blue light blockers that block at least 99% of blue light and avoid screen time 2-3 hrs before bed. Avoid a heavy meal at dinner...stop eating at least 3-4 hrs before bed. No exercise in the evening...but significant exercise during the day. Hot bath before bed w/2 cups epsom salts + lavender essential oil drops (8)...with a 30-60 min cool off period. NO alcohol or drugs (including Rx). NO caffeine, period. Meditation/breathwork/yoga in the evening near bedtime. CBD (20-40mg), valerian (500mg-1g), sleep blend (500mg, I use Solaray for both SP-17 sleep blend and valerian), magnesium (150mg citrate), and tart cherry extract before bed. Aromatherapy...get a mister...I use Gurunanda sleep combo (6 drops) & mister. No electronics in the bedroom. Turn off wifi router and phone. Foam ear plugs + sleep mask. Improve quality of bed esp. w/elevation of head & feet slightly. Keep room cool...65 in winter, 70 in summer. These cured me of insomnia in 1 month and practically doubled my deep sleep from under 1 hr to typically between 1.5 & 2 hrs (1 year later I'm at close to 2.5 hours of deep sleep!). Biggest impact...blue light blockers, hot bath w/epsom salts and aromatherapy, removing caffeine, nighttime herbs + CBD. Have moved my zinc to bedtime as well. Hope this helps...best to all!
Ken Pataky, MS, LCHMC/LMHC, CLC/CHC, is a compassionate Holistic Psychotherapist, and Transformational Life & Health Coach who is passionate about helping YOU create your best life.