Breaking the habit of insomnia


Have you ever had a few nights in a row of not sleeping well? Over the years, I’ve had a few bouts of insomnia, which is defined as ‘habitual sleeplessness’.

If you’ve ever experienced this, you may know how profoundly the lack of a deep sleep can affect your day-to-day function. In a recent article on ( the link between fatigue and reaction time is compared to being over the limit drink driving – that is, if you’re very tired, you shouldn’t be driving! 

Whatever the cause of sleeplessness – for me, my most memorable bout of insomnia was during a marriage and relationship breakdown, loss of employment and needing to move house all at the same time – pretty big stressors and consequently lots of sleepless nights.

The definition of ‘habitual sleeplessness’ is a clue to its cure however. One night I decided I needed to somehow break the ‘habit’ I’d developed of waking up at almost precisely the same time every night – 3.30am (no matter if I’d only fallen asleep, finally, at 1.30am) – and the following nightmarish scenario of tossing and turning and fretting and freaking out for 2–3 hours before falling back into a fitful sleep and having to rouse myself an hour later to get into my day. I had become perpetually exhausted. Nerves frayed. Ability to think disjointed and fuzzy. Depressed. A lot of yucky stuff. Something had to change.

So, instead of laying in bed, when I woke up with mind spinning and heart racing, I got up. Instead of fretting, I made a soothing cup of herbal tea (Sleepytime tea, my favourite) then got out my journal and wrote down what was roiling around in my head. Pages of it. Sometimes I read a little. It began to occur to me to sit and meditate for 5-10 minutes, concentrating on the smooth flow of my breath, in and out. Quietly, in the middle of the night, I’d feel the tension start to seep out of my bones, the stillness of the sleeping city all around me. Tiredness would return and I’d lay back down to sleep, progressively more peacefully.

After a month or so of this routine – sorry, no instant magic on this one for me – I had my first night of sleeping all the way through until around 5.30-6am, which is when I normally get up anyway. I felt like I’d won the lottery that first night, so proud of myself!

There is a lot of advice on the internet and everywhere re what to do if you can’t go to sleep – simple things like not watching tv just prior to bed, eliminating light and digital displays by the beside, no stimulants like coffee after lunch, etc. There are some great yoga poses as well – like child’s pose, most forward bends, supported restorative poses – that can calm the body and mind and prepare the body for letting go into sleep. A quiet period of meditation for 10-15 minutes before bed can totally prepare the body and mind for settling down into deep rest.

Giving your body a proper chance to unwind and relax completely during the day can also unknit that brow of ravelled care (hmmmm, Shakespeare anyone?). An hour or so of restorative yoga poses, quiet breathing, and deliberate stillness will resonate in the system for days afterwards, so see if you can fit in such a practice once or more a week. To experience a full and delicious restorative practice plus more, please consider joining in on the upcoming Harvest Intentions retreat-for-a-day – and give yourself the gift of a powerful recharge on the life energy battery. 🙂

If you have an occasional night of poor sleep, however, it’s usually made up quickly by the more normal sleeping patterns returning the next night and the next. Just watch, however, for that habitual form of sleeplessness – you have the power to break it as soon as you recognise what’s going on.

Here’s to your next good night’s sleep.

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