Youth Canada

How to Combat Insomnia

26-01-2009 by Wendy Ming

How to Combat Insomnia

With stress from school, family, friends, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and jobs, it’s no wonder many students suffer from insomnia, or the inability to fall asleep at night. Although serious insomnia requires medical attention, here are some tips to help you get a good night’s sleep for those occasional sleepless nights.

1. Try to get the right amount of sleep for YOU
Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep. Although the recommended amount of sleep time for teenagers is 9 hours (9.25 to be exact), don’t feel pressured to sleep exactly that amount. If you’re the type of person that runs perfectly on 8 hours of sleep, do that. One of the biggest causes of insomnia is trying to oversleep. Trying to get more sleep than you need – and then not being able to sleep that amount – makes people more stressed. They then may sleep less than if they stop trying to oversleep.

On the other hand, if you’re constantly going on 3 or 4 hours of sleep, then yes! You do need more sleep!

2. Don’t worry too much about it
Worrying about not getting enough sleep makes you more stressed – which makes it harder to get to sleep. Think of it this way: sooner or later you’ll get tired enough that you’ll fall asleep. What’s the worst that could happen just because you’re missing one night’s sleep?

3. You need a regular sleep schedule and a sleep deficit
Everyone has a circadian rhythm, or an internal clock, that regulates when and how much they sleep (among other things). Circadian rhythm works on an almost 24 hour basis, so not having a regular day-to-day sleeping schedule messes it up. This could lead your brain to be confused as to when it should be sleeping, causing daytime sleepiness and insomnia at night.

Aside from having a regular sleep schedule, a sleep deficit is also important. If you’re out partying all Saturday night, gets back during the wee hours of the night, and then sleep in until Sunday afternoon, you may find it hard to fall asleep on Sunday night because you have not built up a sleep deficit and your body is not tired. This is however, is NOT a justification for staying awake when you should be sleeping.

4. Think about something
If your brain feels far too alert to sleep, think about something. Keep what you’re thinking about “light and fluffy” (not about school work or how much stress you’re under). Day (or night) dream a little, be creative, or think of a story. Counting sheep could work as well. If you find sheep too boring to count, count something else. If counting in English isn’t doing it, try counting in French or another foreign language.

5. Listen to some music or soothing sounds
Go for relaxing music such as sounds of nature, accompaniment music to your favourite songs, or classical music. Avoid rap or rock – as those tend to make you more alert – or those with overly fast lyrics. The music could act as lullabies and lull you to sleep.

6. Deep Breathing
Another way to combat overactive brain, restlessness, and queasy stomach when you cannot fall asleep is to take deep breaths. Try to focus only on your breathing. Breathe deeply into your stomach (not chest) on a count of four, and then slowly exhale on a count of four. Continue increasing the counts on your exhales in semi-regular intervals until you get up to eight (count in four, count out eight). Your stomach will feel less queasy, and chances are you’ll fall asleep long before you get to counts of eight. Counting in a foreign language works well for this method as well.

7. Switch positions
Do you usually sleep on your side? Try sleeping on your back or front. Change or flip your pillow. If you feel more comfortable, you’ll sleep better.

8. Eat/Drink something
This is especially effective if you feel that your stomach is queasy or churning. Although queasy stomach tend to originate from stress and not hunger, eating a small snack or drinking milk or de-caffeinated tea gives your stomach something to digest and you won’t feel so queasy.

9. Read a book
If you enjoy reading, curl up with your favourite novel and read for a while. Try not to read a new book though, because then your brain will become more alert to take in the new information.

If you hate reading, grab your Biology/Chemistry/Physics/Math/Literature textbook and read it. You’ll become so bored so fast that before you know it, it will be the next day and you’ll need to lug that book off to class.

10. Stop trying
If all else fails, stop trying to sleep. Get up and do something else. If you can do something productive, go ahead, but otherwise, do something fun and distracting. If you feel sleepy later, go back to bed.

Insomnia adds more stress to an already stressful high school life and it could take a toll on its sufferers. However, with the above tips and a little patience, you will be prepared to deal with insomnia and sleep well even when you think you can’t.

WENDY MING is a grade 12 student at University Hill Secondary School in Vancouver. She is a Shad Valley Waterloo (2008) alumna, and a part of the 4-I’s (Intrepid Impact In-Office Interns).