How to Beat Insomnia Naturally

By Claire Kent. Posted: March 14, 2018

We were delighted by the interest in our last blog about sleep – Top Tips for a Great Night’s Sleep - written by sleep therapist, Max Kirsten. Following the same theme and after many years of sleeping badly Iffley Road co-founder, Claire offers her thoughts on how to beat insomnia.

Please note that Claire is not a professional sleep therapist so these tips are based on tried-and-tested methods and may not work for everyone.

DON’TS

1. Drink coffee after 2pm

For all you coffee addicts out there, it’s not worth even thinking about coffee after around 2pm if you plan to be in bed by around 11pm.  Mo Farah normally downs a shot of espresso before he races - enough said about the impact of caffeine on the body!

2. Drink too much with supper

Alcohol has been proven to be one of the worst offenders in interrupting sleep. While drinking heavily may allow you to fall asleep more quickly than usual, it is also likely to result in a night of disrupted sleep.

3. Exercise too close to bedtime

Whilst one might think that exercise just before bed would tire you out, in fact it’s been proven that exercising too close to bedtime is a bad idea because initially it makes you feel more alert. The National Sleep Foundation recommends late afternoon exercise or finishing your workout at least three hours before bedtime. 

4. Work or do household chores just before bedtime

Working at your laptop or rushing around doing household tasks are other big no-nos just before bedtime. Whilst sometimes it’s unavoidable that we need to check our emails or put on a wash before bed, if you do this you need to allow extra downtime (at least 30 minutes) to switch off after doing so.

5. Have a hot bath just before bed

A common myth is that it’s a good idea to have a hot bath just before bedtime. Soaking in a bath can certainly be relaxing but make sure the water is not too hot or if it is leave time to allow your body to cool down afterwards. Decreases in body temperature help initiate sleep, so it is important to let your body cool down before bed. 

Hot bath before bed

6. Ever use your bedroom for work…

Starting with the principles of the bedroom it’s worth pointing out that even during the day, you should never use your bedroom as a place of work.

7. Or use any technology in the bedroom

Never ever take your phone, i-pad or laptop into the bedroom. Blue light from LED screens on laptops and phones can be disruptive to sleep.  This is why it’s much better to read a book rather than from a Kindle.

8. Go to bed unless you genuinely feel sleepy

One of the biggest mistakes that insomniacs make is going to bed just because it’s a certain time. If you have to get up at 5am, you might feel you need to turn the light out at10pm to be guaranteed of your 7 hours of sleep. This attitude to sleep is destined to fail because you need to feel tired in order for switch off. So before you decide to go to bed make sure you feel genuinely sleepy.

9. Get out of bed and wander around if you can’t sleep

Getting out of bed and wandering around will just make you feel more alert especially if you turn the lights on. While some sleep therapists recommend getting up to read if you can’t sleep, I find resting your body – even if you’re not actually asleep – will leave you feeling less drained the next day.

10. Worry if you can’t sleep

This is easier said than done – but don’t worry if you can’t sleep. What’s important is that you let your body rest. Studies show that resting your body is almost as effective as sleep itself. 

DO’S

1. Form a night time ritual

If you really want to sleep well it's worth forming a night time ritual. This ritual could include having a milky drink, spraying your pillow with a sleep spray; dimming the main lights; reading until you feel sleepy; listening to your breathing or practising autogenics and possibly using earplugs/eyeshade if you’re a light sleeper. 

2. Have a milky drink

A mug of a milky drink such as Horlicks or Ovaltine are ideal relaxants before bed.  But make sure you buy the type where you add milk (not water). Milk and other dairy products contain an amino acid (which help induce sleep) known as tryptophan.  Milk also contains melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.

Milky drink before bed

3. Spray your pillow with a sleep spray

We recommend spraying your pillow with a sleep before reading. There’s a lot of choice on the market but we like This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray. The burst of lavender, camomile and vetvier has been proven to calm a racing mind. 

4. Dim the main bedroom lights

While you’ll need some light to read in bed, it’s a good idea to dim the main light and use a reading lamp. They may not be brilliant for the eyes but a small light that you can clip to your novel, will leave the room feeling darker and prepare you for sleep. 

5. Read before bedtime until you actually feel sleepy

The best ever advice I’ve ever heard for falling asleep came from my daughter, who’s both a book worm and a night owl. She said

“I never have problems sleeping because I simply read until I’m too tired to continue.” 

Among every single piece of advice here I believe that reading a book that grips you in bed is the best way of taking your mind away from the stresses of work and switching off. 

6. Consider ear plugs and an eye mask

If you’re a light sleeper I’d recommend ear plugs and an eye mask, but both have to be effective and comfortable. There are many ear plugs on the market but the best ones we’ve found are Howard Leight Laser Lite ear plugs. If you wear an eye mask, it’s important to wear one which does not touch your eyes (because otherwise you can get an eye infection). The best one we’ve found is from Mindfold

7. Listen to your breathing...

Once the lights are out and you’re actually about to sleep, the best thing is to listen to your breathing - in and out, in and out. It might help to visualise a piston filling with air and then dispelling it. 

Listen to your breathing

8. Or practise simple autogenics

Autogenics sounds complex but is actually straightforward. You simply need to focus on each limb of your body, starting with each individual toe or finger.   As you focus on each finger or toe you think “my little finger feels heavy and warm.” You will actually find that your whole body begins to feel heavier if you progress through each limb with this thought. Most people don’t get through the whole body scan before they fall asleep. 

9. If you really want to take something

If you’ve tried everything above and you still can’t sleep, there are certain over-the-counter medicines that are known to make you drowsy. Liquid Night Nurse and cough medicine are some such medicines.  In the US it’s possible to buy melatonin without a prescription that is a natural product and can help some sufferers beat insomnia. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed our tips on beating insomnia and please email claire@iffleyroad.com if you have any new ideas for sleeping better. 

Happy running and sleeping!

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