For as long as I can remember, sleep has been a tricky area for me. As a kid, I remember spending many a night on the floor of my parents room, scared from my own bed by one nightmare or another. I would read news headlines or listen in on my dads never ending collection of violent movies or shows before bed (“bang-bang-shoot-em-ups” my mom would call them), and hours later, I’d awaken in a panic thinking about them. The child psychiatrist my parents sought out suggested sleeping with the lights on, then with the lights off, with music, and then in total silence. I tried everything. Nothing helped. I would stay up until all hours of the night reading to try and stave it off. That also didn’t help, and in turn, contributed to my horrible eyesight and exhaustion. Throughout high school, I alternated between sleeping with ear plugs, falling asleep with the TV on, sleeping in total darkness, and sleeping with desk and reading lights on. All of those things helped for a night or two, but nothing was a true fix. (Note: It probably doesn’t help that I’ve always been a huge scaredy cat. Every scary movie—okay, commercial… I was WAY too wimpy to watch scary movies… and still am—sound, movement, book, etc. freaked me out and would keep me up for hours.)
I moved away from home for college where I secretly slept with earplugs for a while. It was successful for a bit, blocking out any dorm noises and the sounds my roommate who had a propensity for—ahem—not sleeping alone. After some time, I was so busy with school and work that I started sleeping a little more soundly without them; and though I was still an incredibly light sleeper, I thought my sleep issues were resolved. That is until I moved into my own apartment without roommates a few years later. I was SO excited to live alone and so proud of myself for doing something I thought I’d never do. Then, literally the first night in my tiny little studio, I almost lost my nerve. Every little noise freaked me out. I’m pretty sure I slept no more than two hours that first night. It took a good two weeks of sleeping with the TV and lights on before I even felt comfortable in my own apartment. When my boyfriend (now husband) moved in, things got a little better because I wasn’t alone at night. Not perfect, but better.
Flash forward several years. A wedding, cross country move, and baby later, and I’m STILL not a great sleeper. It really sucks when your kid finally decides to sleep through the night and you’re still awake. Valuable hours are ticking by being totally wasted! Just like when I was younger, I’ve tried dozens of things that supposedly help you sleep. Just in case you’re an insomniac mama like me—or maybe you’re just having a little trouble with sleep presently—I’m sharing my list of what I’ve tried and the results I’ve experienced with each.
- Sleep Aids. I haven’t taken anything prescription like Ambien (because I’m paranoid about the weird side effects you could have), but I really like OLLY Vitamins Restful Sleep. They recommend 2 of the berry flavored gummies, but I found that one was enough for me to get 6-8 hours of sleep. Two left me feeling groggy and caused some pretty weird dreams.
- Essential Oils. I’ve jumped on the essential oil train since my son was born; and though I’m not a die hard user, I really like some of them. I’ve taken to diffusing the relaxing blends while I sleep. I couldn’t really tell you whether I sleep better or not as a result. The scents are nice, and the diffuser makes a pleasant bubbling sound (see White Noise below).
- Nutrition. For me, caffeine is a huge upper. If I have any before bed, I’m up all night. Hell, if I have any after NOON, I’m up all night. I’ve resigned myself to enjoying my caffeinated beverages only in the morning, and indulge only in the occasional tea with lunch. I also try to refrain from eating dairy and super sugary foods right before bed. The dairy causes congestion for me, and it’s really difficult to sleep when you can’t breathe. Sugar just sits heavily in my system when it’s that late. When I say try, I really just mean “try” as I’ll admit that Jeni’s Ice Cream has a way of calling to me after dinner.
- White Noise. It works for babies, why not for us? I’m a huge proponent of white noise while sleeping—for adults and for babies. I feel that it’s part of the reason my son finally sleeps as well as he does—and myself as well. Remember how I said I was a scaredy cat? The white noise app on my phone helps me to not hear every little house creak, animal outside, or our refrigerator’s super-loud ice maker that would startle me out of sleep. Seriously, I wish I had used it sooner.
- Trash TV. While there are a million studies that say that using screens before bed disrupts sleep, for me it’s the opposite. I found that if I watch lousy television right before bed, I fall asleep faster—and stay asleep longer. This doesn’t work for everyone however. My husband has been known to stay up all night watching some documentary or other—long after I’ve fallen asleep. (May be the content though…)
- Exercise. This one is another that didn’t work for me. I’ve tried Crossfit, Pilates, and Hot Yoga before bed, and most times, my body is exhausted, but my mind is thinking about when I’ll work out next, how I really need more workout clothes, and how unbelievably sore I’ll be in the morning.
- Reading. Another one that didn’t work for me. I love reading, and if I’m in a good book, I will literally stay up ALL night to finish it. My husband has been woken up many a night to find me sobbing through a book at 3 am. (I’m looking at you Harry Potter 1-7!)
What tips do you have for getting a restful night’s sleep?