I have struggled with sleeping for as long as I can remember. I go through some periods that are better than others, but for the most part, I have been a terrible sleeper my entire life. Once I get to sleep, I usually stay asleep. The process of falling asleep though can sometimes take me several hours. In college, this was even more frustrating since I had to deal with the added stress of working part-time, studying, and long days. Today, I have a lot of tips to share for overcoming insomnia in college.
Necessary disclaimer: I am not a doctor. If you are struggling with a serious sleep disorder, you should speak to a qualified specialist or facisian to discover a treatment that works for you.
Identify the Cause
Insomnia rarely comes from nowhere. For me, my difficulty falling asleep stems from my anxiety. Even if I rationally know there’s no point worrying myself into sleeplessness, I can’t seem to stop. As soon as I close my eyes I start going through all the things I’m worried about.
If I can’t think of any immediate anxieties, I’ll basically invent things to worry about. That time in fourth grade I said something awkward? Now seems like the perfect time to review every moment of that in my head. It’s exhausting to deal with this much anxiety, especially before bed. These thoughts can keep me up for several hours, and it’s only worse if I know I have to wake up early. The stress of needing to go to bed early can actually keep me up later, it’s a vicious cycle.
Whether you struggle with anxiety, pain, or an underlying disorder, it’s important to understand the root cause of your anxiety. Knowing what causes you to have difficulty sleeping is the only way to come up with a solution that will actually work.
In high school and college, I was a serial nap taker. This was probably because I was never able to get enough sleep at night, but it also contributed to my inability to sleep easily. Taking naps can seriously mess with your sleep cycle! Instead of taking a nap during the day, try going to bed earlier or using a natural energy booster like exercise or tea.
Stop Drinking Caffeine
I’m the first to admit I have a horrible coffee addiction. I’ve been known to drink coffee no matter the time of day, and this is a major no-no. If you must have your coffee fix, stop drinking after 2 pm. Remember that caffeine takes at least 8 hours to leave your system, so you’ll need to leave at least that length of time between coffee and bedtime.
Use an Eye Mask and Ear Plugs
I’m a light sleeper. If something so much as creaks in my room, I’m wide awake again. Because of this, dorms were basically a sleeping nightmare. I would never step into a dorm room without an eye mask and earplugs. These two things were usually enough to keep most distractions from waking me up just as I’m about to fall asleep.
Prepare for the Next Day
If you’re like me and you spend the whole night worrying about stuff coming up, take care of as much as possible the night before. Just setting out my clothes for the next day and packing my backpack was sometimes enough to ease the majority of my anxiety. I’ve also benefited from keeping a very detailed planner and writing out to-do lists so I stop worrying about forgetting anything important.
Limit Light at Night
A few hours before bed, you should start dimming or turning off the lights around your dorm/apartment. Contrarily, during the day you should expose yourself to sunlight, especially in the morning. Our bodies understand the day to mean being awake and night to mean going to bed. A bright bedroom won’t do you any favors at bedtime.
Listen to Calming Sounds or Podcasts
It can be really lonely when you’re in bed struggling to fall asleep. I’ve found that listening to calming podcasts or nature sounds can help me focus on something other than my racing thoughts. These are some of my favorites for overcoming insomnia:
- Relax Melodies app lets you create your own relaxing sounds and mixes to help you fall asleep.
- The Sleep With Me Podcast is a dull, soothing podcast which never fails to knock me out.
- Bedtime Stories Podcast for those who just wish someone would tell them a story at night.
Establish Nighttime Rituals
You can actually condition your body to know when to expect bedtime. If you don’t follow any consistent schedule at night, your body can be left feeling confused about what you want it to do. However, if every night before bed you brush your teeth and read a book, you’re body will start to get the hint.
Use Natural Sleep Aids
There’s a lot of controversy surrounding sleeping pills, most of which are intended only for short-term use. Honestly, I think sometimes you have to do what’s best for you when it comes to medication and sleep aids. If you suspect a bad nights sleep coming on, there’s no shame in taking something to help you achieve peace of mind.
Before you try more intense sleep aids or prescription sleeping pills, try some of these natural sleep aids for overcoming insomnia:
- Chamomile tea is a great way to relax at bedtime and it makes a great addition to a nighttime routine. I like Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Tea.
- Magnesium is also said to help with sleep. Boost magnesium levels with nighttime snacks like bananas, crackers, and almonds.
- Melatonin supplements are an easy way to help ease anxiety at bedtime. I use the LUNA Natural Melatonin Relaxing Supplement and it works great to help me relax.
Overcoming insomnia can be seriously frustrating. It’s helpful to remember that one night (or even a few nights) of bad sleep won’t be horribly detrimental to your health. Just because you have a bad nights sleep doesn’t mean you’ll have a bad day when you wake up. Don’t let insomnia get in the way of the rest of your life!
If you have trouble overcoming insomnia, you’re in good company. Science shows that some of the highest levels of achievers and creative minds suffer from some form of insomnia. Van Gogh, Marylin Monroe, and Abraham Lincoln were all insomniacs, so maybe there’s some hope after all? On the other hand, they didn’t exactly live happily ever after did they? Sweet dreams!
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