How to Overcome Insomnia with Journaling
Experts recommend that adults get at least seven hours of sleep each night (CDC, n.d.). If you get less than that, you will increase your risk of severe health problems, including heart attacks, strokes, chronic kidney disease, and cancer. Your mental health can also suffer, causing you to feel depressed, anxious, and irritable.
Unfortunately, if you have insomnia, the idea of getting anywhere near seven hours of sleep seems impossible. Instead of sleeping, you spend your nights tossing, turning, and worrying.
First, understand that you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 10-60 percent of the population has chronic insomnia, which means they suffer from significant sleep problems three or more times a week for at least three months (Sleep Foundation, 2020). Many people also have short-term insomnia. While it doesn’t last as long, the symptoms are overwhelming.
Short-term and chronic insomnia affects people in different ways. Some people have sleep-onset insomnia. That means they have trouble falling asleep. They might have a hard time falling asleep because their circadian rhythm is out of whack. This problem also might be because they cannot relax when they get into bed. The lack of relaxation can lead to tossing and turning throughout the night.
Others suffer from sleep maintenance insomnia. People who have this problem can fall asleep but cannot stay asleep. This is often due to age, nutrition, or medical conditions, such as sleep apnea.
Finally, it’s possible to have mixed insomnia. People with this have trouble falling and staying asleep. This is often due to a myriad of factors.
Whether you suffer from chronic or short-term insomnia, you can take a three-pronged approach to overcome it. If you want to put this problem behind you, use a combination of journaling, sleep hygiene, and smart nutrition choices.
Let’s take a closer look at each category, starting with journaling.
Journaling to Overcome Sleep Insomnia
Around half of all insomnia cases are at least partially due to anxiety, depression, or psychological stress (National Alliance on Mental Illness, n.d.). This includes substance abuse disorders, which are classified as a mental illness (National Institute on Mental Health, n.d.).
Unfortunately, lack of sleep can make mental health problems even worse. You might even notice that mental health treatment isn’t nearly as effective when you aren’t getting enough sleep. It’s hard to be fully engaged in treatment when you are too tired to focus.
Fortunately, you can use journaling to deal with the mental health components of insomnia. Doing this will help you get a better night’s sleep. Let’s go over some different journaling strategies to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. You might need to use one or a combination of strategies to overcome insomnia.
Stress, Anxiety, and Sleep – Journaling to Ease the Worried Mind
Do you find yourself tossing and turning at night, worrying about uncompleted tasks? Journaling can help you overcome that problem, so you can fall asleep faster.
Researchers from Emory University and Baylor University decided to see if writing to-do lists could reduce bedtime worry and help people fall asleep (Michael K Scullin, 2017).
Each of the study’s 57 subjects completed a five-minute writing assignment before bed. Some spent the time writing about completed events, while others wrote to-do lists. Those who wrote to-do lists fell asleep much faster than the people who wrote about completed activities. The researchers also noticed that the more specific the to-do list, the faster people fell asleep.
This works because of the way you think of uncompleted tasks. Your brain focuses on these tasks more than completed tasks. It’s more apt to remember tasks that you have yet to finish. Because your brain focuses on uncompleted tasks, they’re more likely to keep you up at night. Through the act of journaling, you can offload the tasks from your brain. They are no longer the main focus (Denworth, 2018). You will feel a sense of relief and find that it’s much easier to fall asleep. Then, you’ll wake up refreshed and ready to tackle that to-do list.
Release Your Stress With a Worry Journal
You can also offset some of your problems by creating a worry journal. A worry journal can alleviate your stress and anxiety and help you get a better night’s sleep (Erickson, 2017). Journaling approximately three hours before bed will allow you to move your worries from your brain to your journal. Then, when you go to bed at night, you won’t be as likely to ruminate on your life’s stressors.
You don’t have to only write about your worries, though. You can also include some problem-solving ideas. For instance, if money is a worry, you can create a plan to help you earn some extra cash and start a savings account. You will feel a sense of relief when you come up with strategies to overcome your problems. You’ll also find that you’re more likely to follow through and fix the problem when you write solutions down.
Increase Gratitude to Improve Your Sleep
If you’re having trouble sleeping, it could come down to gratitude, or lack thereof. Researchers have studied gratitude’s impact on sleep, and the results are clear. The more grateful you are, the better you’ll sleep. Fortunately, you can increase your level of gratitude quickly with journaling.
Let’s look at some research behind gratitude and sleep, so you’ll understand how important it is.
Psychologists Michael McCullough and Robert Emmons conducted a study to determine how gratitude impacts people suffering from neuromuscular disorders (Robert A Emmons, 2003). The researchers had the subjects to write gratitude lists before bed each night. The subjects stated that they started sleeping better after three weeks of gratitude journaling.
Researchers at the University of Manchester in England also studied gratitude’s impact on sleep (Alex M Wood, 2009). More than 400 subjects participated in the study, and 40 percent had been previously diagnosed with sleep disorders. The participants completed questionnaires that inquired about their levels of gratitude and sleep quality, including how long it took them to fall asleep. They also answered questions about the thoughts they had before going to bed. People with high levels of gratitude had more positive thoughts and fell asleep faster. It’s easier to fall asleep when thinking about positive things instead of worrying about negative things, which is why gratitude journaling is so important.
There are some things to keep in mind when writing in a gratitude journal. First, the details are important. Don’t just write that you’re grateful for your spouse. Detail specific reasons that you’re grateful, providing as many small details as possible.
Also, write about something new each day. If you write about the same person or event, approach it from a different angle. Otherwise, your gratitude journal will stop having as big of an impact.
Finally, use gratitude journal prompts if you aren’t sure where to begin. Start with the prompt and then fill the page with your own thoughts.
Process Events to Improve Working Memory and Sleep Better
You can also use your journal to process events, including trauma. Processing experiences is very taxing on your working memory. It’s hard to get your brain to quiet down at night because your working memory is overwhelmed. When you process events and trauma through journaling, you can organize your thoughts and gain insight into what happened. This increases your working memory, making it easier to sleep (Phelan, 2018).
Again, you need to pay attention to the details. Write down each detail, no matter how insignificant it seems. Writing in detail allows you to connect with your feelings. That, in turn, makes it easier to process events.
Create a Sleep Log to Track Insomnia
Sleep specialists often recommend that people with insomnia and other sleep disorders keep a sleep log (DiGiulio, 2018). In fact, if you see a specialist for insomnia, he or she will likely have you start a sleep journal before determining a course of treatment. A sleep journal consists of more than a log of when you go to bed and when you wake up. You’ll need to track other things that can impact your sleep, such as caffeine intake, alcohol consumption, diet, exercise, and medications. You will also note how you feel throughout the day.
As with all types of journaling, you need to take the time to include the details when writing a sleep log. The more detailed your journal entries are, the easier it will be to identify the problem. Continue to keep the log once you overcome insomnia. If you start to have issues again, you can look back and find the problem’s source.
Now that you know how to journal your way to better sleep, it’s time to go over sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is the second component of overcoming insomnia.
Sleep Hygiene Tips for Overcoming Insomnia
Sleep hygiene is a phrase used to describe good sleep habits. When you have good sleep habits, you’re less likely to struggle to fall and stay asleep. Let’s go over some tips to improve your sleep hygiene (Sleep Association, n.d.).
Set a Schedule
Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is a critical component of sleep hygiene. If you’re going to get the right amount of sleep each night, you need to stick to a schedule. The schedule can vary by about 20 minutes, but that’s it. You need to follow the same routine every day of the week, including the weekends.
Sticking to a schedule will do more than help you beat insomnia. Researchers have also discovered that people will regularly sleep patterns are at lower risk for hypertension, obesity, and high blood sugar (Jessica R. Lunsford-Avery, 2020).
Exercise During the Day
Exercise is an often-overlooked component of sleep hygiene. Moderate aerobic exercise can help you beat insomnia and get a better night’s sleep (Johns Hopkins Medicine, n.d.). First, exercise helps decompress the mind. That makes it easier for your brain to transition to sleep for the night. Also, if you exercise, you’ll get a more slow-wave (deep) sleep. Your brain and body need this type of sleep to rejuvenate.
Now, the question is, when should you exercise? Aerobic exercise raises the core body temperature and causes your brain to release endorphins. That can inhibit sleep. Because of that, experts have long recommended that you avoid exercise at night.
However, that has changed.
Researchers analyzed 23 studies’ results and determined that you can exercise in the evening, with one stipulation. You should not exercise vigorously for a full hour before you go to bed (Harvard Health Publishing, n.d.). If you stick to this guideline, you can exercise in the evening if you wish, then go home and start your bedtime routine.
Your body needs a specific amount of sleep every 24 hours. Napping counts toward that amount, so if you sleep during the day, you won’t require as much sleep at night. That makes it hard to develop a good sleep routine.
That doesn’t mean you have to avoid naps altogether. Sometimes, you’re so tired that napping is the only way you’ll get through the day. However, you do need to nap wisely (Pacheco, 2020). Keep your naps to 10-20 minutes. Also, only nap in the early afternoon, and never later than 2 p.m. This is the best time of day to nap without impacting your sleep at night. You’ll get a little boost in the afternoon while still being able to sleep at night.
Leave the Bed If You Can’t Sleep
When you’re dealing with a bout of insomnia, it can feel like a battle of wills. Part of you thinks that if you keep trying, you’ll finally fall asleep. You’ll win in a sense.
That’s why you often lie in bed for hours, unable to sleep. You refuse to let insomnia win, so you won’t get up.
If you stay in bed too long, your brain will associate the act of being in your bed with the act of being awake (Ramaswamy, 2016). That will make it even harder to go to sleep down the road. Some experts recommend only lying awake for 5-10 minutes, while others say you have up to 20 minutes to fall asleep. You know your body, so take cues from it, but don’t stay in bed longer than 20 minutes.
When you leave the bed, make sure you don’t do Anything to stimulate your brain. You can do a calming activity, such as journaling, or you can sit in the dark and let your racing thoughts run their course. Then, once you feel calm and sleepy, return to bed and try to fall asleep again.
Turn the Clock Around
Avoid watching the clock when trying to fall asleep. That can add to your stress levels and make it harder to fall asleep. Turn your alarm clock around when you get in bed. Then, if it feels like you’ve been lying there for 5-20 minutes, get out of bed for a bit.
Only Use the Bed for Sleep and Sex
Your brain can also form the bed and wakefulness association if you use it for watching TV, reading, playing on your phone, or other activities. Only engage in those activities when you aren’t in bed. Otherwise, you will find it more and more difficult to fall asleep at night. You should only use your bed for sleep and sex. Anything else should be off-limits.
Create a Pre-bedtime Routine
Your circadian rhythm loves a routine. When you develop and follow the same bedtime routine, your body will begin to associate it with sleep. The routine will make you feel tired and ready to fall asleep.
There are numerous options you can use when creating a routine. Spend some time journaling, read a book, take a bath, or listen to music. Start the routine at the same time every night, so you can fall asleep with ease. Over time, you’ll notice that you start to associate your routine with going to sleep. You’ll feel yourself winding down at the beginning of the routine, and when it’s finished, you’ll be ready to go to sleep.
Avoid Devices Before Bed
Electronic devices such as your smartphone and television emit blue light, which suppresses melatonin production. Lower melatonin levels cause the circadian rhythm to change (Harvard Health Publishing, 2020). If you want to sleep better, stop using electronics a half-hour before you go to bed (National Sleep Foundation, n.d.). Also, if you can’t sleep, don’t reach for your cell phone or computer out of frustration. That will make it worse.
Make Sure Your Bedroom Is Set Up for a Good Night’s Sleep
You need to make sure your bedroom is set up for a good night’s sleep. It should be quiet and dark, and you need a comfortable mattress and bedding.
You also need to make sure your bedroom is at an ideal temperature. For the best night’s sleep, the temperature in your bedroom should be 60-67 degrees (National Sleep Foundation, n.d.).
While that might sound cold, it makes sense when you understand the science behind it. Your body lowers its internal temperature to help you fall asleep. It’s easier for your body to lower the temperature when your bedroom is cool. The cooler temperature also allows your body to stay cooler when sleeping. That means you’re less likely to have a restless night’s sleep. You should notice that you wake up much more refreshed and rested when your bedroom is cool.
Now that you know how to practice sleep hygiene, it’s time to move on to the third and final component of overcoming insomnia. Let’s look at the nutritional aspects that you need to address.
The Nutritional Aspects of Overcoming Insomnia
Your body relies on the right nutrition to perform different functions, including sleep. If you have insomnia, you need to consume certain foods and beverages while avoiding others. Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional aspects of insomnia.
Avoid Fluid Intake for Three Hours Before Going to Bed
If you drink too much fluid before you go to bed, you might suffer from nocturia (Cleveland Clinic, n.d.). Waking up once a night to go to the bathroom is considered normal, but anything over that is problematic. While you’re more likely to develop a problem if you drink caffeinated beverages or alcohol before bed, even drinking water can cause the problem.
If you can, avoid fluid intake a full three hours before bed. If that’s not possible, don’t drink anything for two hours before you go to bed.
But Stay Hydrated
While you shouldn’t drink for a few hours before bed, you do need to stay hydrated. Failure to stay hydrated could lead to short sleep duration, according to researchers from Penn State University (Asher Y Rosinger, 2018). The study evaluated the urine of people who regularly sleep six and eight hours a night. The urine of those who regularly sleep eight hours a night was less concentrated, showing that they were better hydrated.
According to the researchers, the link between hydration and sleep is likely due to vasopressin. Your body releases this hormone during the day and night to regulate your hydration status. The body releases a significant amount of vasopressin near the end of a normal sleep cycle. If you don’t get enough sleep, you could miss this hormone boost. This can disrupt your hydration.
Fortunately, you can fix this problem by hydrating during the day. Drink enough water to ensure you’re hydrated. Then, you should be able to sleep longer and get your hydration back on track.
Don’t Fall for the “Milk Myth”
You know you shouldn’t drink liquids before bedtime, but you can’t help but wonder about a glass of warm milk. You’ve heard that it can help people fall asleep, so you want to try it.
Milk does contain a bit of tryptophan, which is a key component in getting a restful night’s sleep. Tryptophan causes your body to produce melatonin and serotonin, which calms you down and helps you fall asleep. However, the amount of tryptophan is too small to actually make you fall asleep (UAMS Health, n.d.). Instead of relying on milk to get tryptophan, you can eat other foods that contain more of the hormone.
This doesn’t mean you should skip milk completely. However, don’t drink it late at night, when it’s more likely to cause you to get up and go to the bathroom.
Avoid Caffeine in the Afternoon Hours
Do you find yourself reaching for a steaming cup of coffee or a soft drink in the afternoon hours? Drinking caffeine in the afternoon and evening can lead to significant sleep disturbances. Researchers measured the sleep impact of drinking caffeine at zero, three, and six hours before bedtime (Christopher Drake, 2013). They discovered that it had a significant impact on sleep, even when it was consumed six hours before bed. While you can have some caffeine in the morning, don’t drink any after lunch to be safe.
Limit Your Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol can make you feel sleepy, so you might not realize it can cause sleep problems. Let’s dig in to see how alcohol affects sleep (Pacheco, Alcohol and Sleep, 2020).
When you drink, your bloodstream absorbs the alcohol. Then, your liver enzymes metabolize it. The liver enzymes work slowly, so the alcohol that has yet to be metabolized will continue to float through your bloodstream. This process can continue through the night.
It’s hard to get a restful night’s sleep when your body is processing alcohol. Researchers have discovered that drinking alcohol reduces REM sleep. This creates an imbalance in the sleep cycle, causing you to feel less rested the next morning. These symptoms are similar to those that insomniacs experience. Yes, you might actually get sleep when you drink alcohol, but it’s not as restorative, so it’s like you barely slept at all.
Avoid Sugary Foods and Beverages
You know that refined sugar is bad for your waistline. In fact, most diets start by removing added sugar and simple carbohydrates. You might not realize that sugar can also prevent you from having a restful night’s sleep (National Sleep Foundation, n.d.). When you consume a lot of sugar during the day, you can expect a restless night’s sleep. You might not notice that you’re waking up, but you’ll spend less time in a deep sleep. That will cause you to feel fatigued the next day.
Consuming sugar can also wreck your sleep routine by causing a sugar crash. When that happens, you’re likely to take a nap so you can function again. The nap throws off your sleep cycle, making it hard to sleep at night.
Due to these problems, it’s best to avoid refined sugar as much as possible. That includes avoiding simple carbs like white rice and white bread. Instead, fill your plate with complex carbs that won’t impact your sleep or cause a sugar crash. You’ll feel much more energetic when you make the switch. You might even notice that you lose a few pounds in the process.
Eat the Right Foods
Eating the right foods can also help you drift off to sleep at night (Suni, 2020). Let’s look at some of the best foods for overcoming insomnia. Do your best to add at least some of these foods to the menu each day. Then, you’ll get the vitamins and nutrients you need to have a good night’s sleep. You’ll also enjoy additional health benefits that come with eating these tasty foods.
Kiwi isn’t just delicious. It’s also packed with vitamins and minerals. While research is still being conducted, early studies show that kiwi has the potential to improve sleep, likely due to the fruit’s antioxidant properties, high levels of folate, and serotonin-boosting abilities. Eat a couple of kiwis a day to maximize the benefits of this delicious fruit. As you eat kiwi, chart your progress. See if you notice that you fall asleep faster. If so, that’s yet more proof that kiwi works to overcome sleep problems.
Tart Cherry Juice
Have you heard of people touting the benefits of taking melatonin supplements to regulate their circadian rhythms? You can get the same benefits without the supplements by drinking tart cherry juice. The juice has a high concentration of melatonin, so you’ll fall asleep quickly. Also, its antioxidant properties help you get a more restful night’s sleep.
Don’t substitute sweet cherries for tart cherry juice, though. Sweet cherries don’t provide the same sleep-producing benefits.
You’ve likely heard that nuts are a great choice when you’re dieting. They are full of healthy fats and protein that your body needs. They fill you up, making you less likely to reach for unhealthy snacks. They can also help you beat insomnia. Nuts have magnesium, zinc, and melatonin, all of which help with sleep. Researchers have found that the combination of the three is especially helpful in older people with sleep problems (Mariangela Rondanelli, 2011). However, you don’t need to be a senior to benefit from eating nuts. Add them to your diet, so you can enjoy the sleep benefits.
Salmon and other fatty fish are a great choice if you suffer from sleep problems. The omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D help your body regulate serotonin, making it easier to fall and stay asleep. While it’s always a good idea to eat fatty fish, it’s essential in the winter months, when you don’t get as much exposure to sunlight. Without eating salmon and other fatty fish, you could become deficient in vitamin D. A vitamin D deficiency causes a wealth of problems, from sleep disturbances to aches and pains. It’s definitely not something you want to deal with, so make sure you get plenty of vitamin D by eating fish and other foods.
You’ve likely heard that you should eat bananas if you have muscle cramps. Bananas are also a good option if you have a sleep disorder (The Sleep Council, n.d.). Bananas contain potassium and magnesium, which help your body relax so that you can go to sleep. Also, bananas contain tryptophan, which boosts your serotonin and melatonin levels. The extra melatonin and serotonin help you get a good night’s sleep. Along with getting a good night’s sleep, you’ll also feel a lot better during the day when you eat bananas. Add them to your grocery shopping list, so you can enjoy these benefits and more.
Sweet potatoes have been getting a lot of love lately. People claim that they can do everything, from helping you lose weight to getting six-pack abs. They can also help you fall asleep. Sweet potatoes have potassium, so you don’t have to worry about muscle cramps preventing you from drifting off to sleep. This carb-rich food also helps your brain produce serotonin. Between the potassium and the serotonin, you’ll be asleep in no time.
Eggs are often recommended for people who are trying to lose weight. They have a heavy dose of protein and fill you up. Eggs can also help you overcome insomnia and other sleep issues (Taylor, 2018). Eggs contain vitamin D, which is critical for sleep. When you add in other vitamin D-rich foods, you can expect to drift off to dreamland.
Don’t Eat Late at Night
Now you know what foods to eat, but don’t consume them late at night. Eating late at night can also contribute to insomnia. You should eat your last meal at least three hours before bedtime to reduce your chance of getting heartburn (Brandon Peters, 2020). If you eat closer to bed, the contents in your stomach can enter the esophagus. That, in turn, can cause heartburn. If you have heartburn, you’ll have a very difficult time falling asleep.
Start Your Plan to Overcome Insomnia
Now you have the tools you need to overcome insomnia. Begin by choosing a journaling platform. When you keep a journal online, you can access it anywhere. Then, you can update your journal, even if you’re on vacation.
Next, make sure you follow proper sleep hygiene protocols. Set a time to go to bed and wake up. Then, follow it, even over the weekends. Also, make sure your bedroom is dark, cool, and relaxing, so you can fall asleep. Then, go down the rest of the list, ensuring that you follow each step.
Finally, make sure that you’re following the nutrition protocols. Pay attention to what you eat and drink, so you can overcome insomnia.
Insomnia can be overwhelming when you’re stuck in the middle of it. The sleepless nights add up, and you don’t know how much more you can take. It feels like you’re out of control, but you can regain control by taking a three-pronged approach. When you address the different components that cause insomnia, you can finally overcome it.
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