Insomnia: The Ultimate Checklist for Sleep

What's causing your insomnia?

Insomnia can be a side effect, symptom, or a by-product of so many different things, it sometimes feels impossible to get to the root of the problem. As such, many of us don’t know what’s causing our insomnia, or how to prevent it from occurring night after night.

Although insomnia is not unique to INFJs, the traits associated with this personality type can definitely play into the problem. We are naturally inclined to overthink, worry, and stress, which are some of the leading causes of insomnia. Our minds never stop, so if you’re an INFJ, you may want to skip down a few paragraphs, to “Your Head: Anxiety and Stress”, below.

HSPs can also be hit hard with insomnia due to their heightened sensitivities. Night time is usually fraught with disturbances for the highly sensitive person – lights, trains in the distance, partner snoring, pets, kids, etc. HSPs may require more sleep than the norm, which makes it even more important for them to get their z’s. It helps smooth out the edges of their sensitivities so they can wake up ready to face the day. See “Your Environment: Interference”, below.

Living with Severe Insomnia

I have had severe insomnia for roughly two years now. I use the term, “severe” to clarify that insomnia is much more than just getting less than the recommended hours of sleep. It’s defined as having “habitual sleeplessness”. Those with insomnia may not get any sleep at all for days, or only a couple of hours at a time. It’s very common for me to go 3 nights or more with no sleep, or go a full week with less than three hours per night. My problem isn’t getting to sleep, so much as it is staying asleep.

I consider my insomnia to be severe because it dramatically affects my ability to function. It’s hard to focus on my tasks for the day, if I even have the motivation to do them at all. Some days, I forego driving due to my spaciness and inability to concentrate. My motivation is usually in the toilet, my eyes burn, I can’t recall much (memory), and my mood is somewhere between grey and unbearable.

I’m not going to bore you with the long list of how and why sleep is vital to our overall health. If you have insomnia, you already know it’s important because you’re already feeling the health affects. Listing off possible side effects and health risks only increases anxiety, which is counter intuitive to an insomniac already riddled with anxiety and sleeplessness.

What’s Really Keeping You Awake?

I would say that most everything that could cause insomnia (sans a legitimate disease that you have no control over) fall into four main categories: your head, your body, your environment, and your routine. Let’s break these categories down into tangible things you can do (or avoid) to help rid yourself of insomnia once and for all.

Your Head: Anxiety and Stress

Worry, anxiety, and stress are all essentially the same thing with varying differences, but it generally means your thoughts are getting the better of you, cortisol is released and then sleep is next to impossible. You’re just laying there, awake, worrying about your kids, what you have to do tomorrow, or about something that happened at work that day that was upsetting. You could even be replaying a conversation in your head that didn’t go well and you’re stressed that you may have said the wrong thing.

A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow. – Charlotte Brontë

  1. Be a normal sleeper. Dr. Meadows suggests that when we struggle to control our thoughts and environment, we make insomnia worse. He instead advocates a simple 5-step program dealing with acceptance for sound sleep. If it works for you, it pretty much negates the rest of this list, so it’s a great place to start. I have recently started reading his book, The Sleep Book: How to Sleep Well Every Night. I’ll keep you posted, and for those of you who have already read it, please let me know if you found it helpful in the comments section.
  2. Journaling is great right before bed because it allows you to take those thoughts, ideas, lists, or worries out of your head and put them on paper where they can stay for the night.
  3. Talking it out is another way to release something on your mind, whether it was a hard day at work or you’re upset about something personal. Talk to  your spouse or call a friend.
  4. Meditation can really calm you down and help you to let go of any stress that’s still hanging around before bedtime. If you’re a beginner, try a guided meditation app for your phone.
  5. Taking a hot bath melts away the stress and tension of the day, allowing your mind to relax and think of happier things. Maybe visualize yourself far away, with your toes in the sand.
  6. Listen to calming music before bed is a nice distraction from thought. My husband uses a mellow guitar playlist to lull himself to sleep. Grab your earbuds and give it a try.
  7. Herbal tea is both calming and comforting for the mind and body, depending on your choice (try chamomile or my fave, Tulsi Sleep), so it’s a good prep an hour or two before bed.
  8. Read a good book (not too good or it will keep you up) until your eyes start to droop. Similar to the music mentioned, it works well as a distraction, until you’re ready for sleep.
  9. Biofeedback Therapy is used to help you develop successful methods to control your stress and anxiety levels, if you’re struggling. Your brain is monitored while stress in introduced, then your therapist helps you test out different relaxation methods to find what works for you, so you can use it to better control your stress levels at home.

Your Body: Stimulants & Energy

Your body is an intricate, hard-working machine. There are several things that you eat or drink (or don’t eat or drink) that wreak havoc on your energy and sleep patterns.

The minute anyone’s getting anxious I say, You must eat and you must sleep. They’re the two vital elements for a healthy life. – Francesca Annis

  1. Eating large meals too close to bedtime can upset sleep by forcing your body to focus on digestion rather than sleep. Eat dinner three or more hours before bed to avoid this problem.
  2. Proper hydration is important, and doesn’t just affect your waking hours. If you’re dehydrated, your body can’t easily produce melatonin, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  3. Tryptophan-containing snacks that naturally raise your serotonin levels are best in the evenings, such as bananas, cheese, or a few nuts or seeds.
  4. Avoid coffee and chocolate late at night. They contain caffeine, which can keep you up and interrupt your sleep. If must have them, have them before noon and only in small amounts.
  5. Alcohol is not conducive to sleep. It may knock you out, but it will interrupt your sleep throughout the night, causing you to miss out on your sacred REM sleep.
  6. Avoid sugar throughout the day, as it delays the release of melatonin and can toy with your ability to sleep throughout the night.
  7. Some medications or supplements may inhibit your ability to sleep, or make your insomnia worse (cold medicine, steroids, etc.). Please talk with your doctor about potential side effects.
  8. Sleep aids encompass many pharmaceutical drugs and supplements into one category, but I don’t do pharmaceuticals due to heavy side effects. Some natural supplements I’ve taken in the past with some success are: melatonin (for circadian rhythm), calming and sleep-promoting herbs (chamomile, hops, lemon balm, passionflower, lavender, valerian), aromatherapeutic essential oils for sleep (inhalation), and magnesium (if you’re deficient). If you live in a state that allows medicinal or recreational marijuana use, it may be something to consider, but can backfire with the wrong strain, but there are many strains known to help with insomnia.

Sleepless night with insomnia.

If you find that you are restless during the night, tossing and turning, you may have an energy build-up. This refers to those who aren’t exercising regularly, those with “nervous energy” or even those adults with ADHD. My dad falls into the latter category and needs to be doing something all the time. He works out at the gym vigorously to expend this energy, allowing him to sleep soundly at night.

Fatigue is the best pillow. – Benjamin Franklin

  1. Physical activity that’s vigorous and boosts your adrenaline levels is great for releasing energy and tiring out your body for a deep, restful sleep later, but be sure to do it early in the day.
  2. Go for a walk. It’s not only healthy as a daily habit, but is a low-impact way to get rid of nervous energy, increase oxygen, and digestion. It’s a great way to set yourself up for a good night’s sleep.
  3. Yoga or stretching before bed is also a gentle and low-impact way to tire yourself out without the potential for pain or injury. It’s also relaxing, so can be done later in the evening.
  4. Dance or aerobics is another energy-draining activity that can be done earlier in the day to release all that energy. Plus, it’s more fun than the standard exercises!
  5. Sex releases endorphins during intercourse (and climax) that naturally boost your mood and reduce stress, so it’s a great way to unwind and relax before bed.
  6. Deep breathing exercises are a way to let go of everything – excess energy, toxins, stress, etc. Combine with mediation to create a nightly relaxation routine.

Your Environment: Interference

You may be surprised to learn that your sleeping environment can play a major role in your insomnia. This refers to where you sleep, which is usually your bedroom. It’s a space that should be calm and inviting.

For sleep, one needs endless depths of blackness to sink into; daylight is too shallow, it will not cover one. – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

  1. Beautify your bedroom to make your bed and bedroom something to look forward to. It should be a snuggly, happy, beautiful retreat at the end of your long day. Make sure you have a comfortable and supportive mattress. These days, there are tons of free trials with returns online. Use them to find a mattress that works for you.
  2. The room temperature of your bedroom should be relatively cool to be conducive to sleep, but ideally in the 60-something range. Find your sweet spot.
  3. Remove your clock from your nightstand, so you don’t obsess over the time or how much sleep you have or haven’t gotten. It’s just one more thing you shouldn’t be thinking about.
  4. Limit noise in your home. I’m a light sleeper, so I use a white noise machine and close my bedroom door to keep out any noise elsewhere in the house (TV, teenagers).
  5. Keep your room so dark that you can’t find your way to the bathroom. In other words, say yes to blackout shades and no to night lights, if you want a good night’s sleep.
  6. Electronics give off disruptive signals that can negatively affect your sleep, so put them in another room. This includes alarm clocks, cell phones, TVs, etc.
  7. Avoid blue light at least 1-2 hours before bed. Devices that give off blue light include your computer, phone, and TV. TIP: If you can’t lay off the screens, you can opt for blue and green light blocking glasses or, if you have a Mac or iPhone, turn on “night shift” under your display settings. Otherwise, download f.lux for your computer screen – it’s free. I know, TV is the tough one – here are the glasses I use.

Your Routine: Sleep Habits

Routine is important when it comes to sleep. You must give your body and mind certain expectations that lead it to the ultimate goal; to sleep. They will follow along, if you just lead them in the right direction.

Nothing cures insomnia like the realization that it’s time to get up. – Anonymous

  1. Consistency is key to having any possible relief of insomnia. If you’re inconsistent, falling asleep to the TV, or sleeping in on the weekends, you’re screwing with your circadian rhythm, which can lead to insomnia. To remedy this, go to bed around the same time each night and wake up around the same time every morning (even the weekends), and be sure you’re getting plenty of natural sunlight, especially first thing in the morning. iPhone has a built-in bedtime schedule you can turn on in the Clock app.
  2. Track your sleep in a notebook or using a sleep app. This may help you find a pattern in your sleep habits that needs adjusting.
  3. No napping. This is a big one, and it’s difficult. Many people find that they can’t sleep the first half of the night, then sleep for the last few hours (early morning). These people have a tendency to “sleep in” or nap during the day, throwing their sleep cycle even more out of whack. Skip the naps so you can try to get on a regular sleep schedule (see #31 again).
  4. Make sure pets and kids have regular bedtime schedules too, or they will be likely to interrupt yours. I have this problem with one of my dogs – he wakes up at 5am, so although I’m working on getting him to sleep later (moving up his eating time, ignoring him until it’s time to eat, etc) in the morning, I make sure I get to bed early enough to compensate for his insomnia.
  5. Your bed is for sleep, so if you’re in the habit of laying in bed wide awake, the experts claim that it’s best to get out of bed and do something boring, then try again when your eyes start to droop. It’s believed that your brain needs to understand that your bed is for sleeping (and sex) ONLY, so don’t stay up and work on your computer, watch tv, or eat while in bed.

Obviously, insomnia isn’t easily cured or somebody would have figured it out by now, but I do know that you really have to be in tune with your body. Your sleepless nights may feel random, but they’re not. If you can sleep 3-4 hours, you may be eligible for a sleep study, which can also help pinpoint problems and patterns.

I’ve learned to destress before bed to help me fall asleep, but have yet to figure out how to stay asleep through the entire night. I have a tendency to wake up around 3am (side note: oriental medicine says this waking time has to do with liver function and is also heavily reported with hormone fluctuations). To compensate for this, I’ve had to go to bed earlier, which really helps. Where I started out getting only 0-3 hours of sleep per night, I am now up to 5 hours. If you’re an insomnia sufferer, like me, then you understand what a triumph this is for me.

You can do the same. It’s truly a matter of identifying where you’re lacking balance, then taking the time to remedy those areas. It can be cumbersome some nights, but the reward is sleep, my tired friends.

If you have any tips or ideas for sleeping better through the night, please share them in the comments below – we need all the help we can get!

I’m not a health, nutrition, fitness, or medical professional. Please research and talk with your practitioner before making any changes to your lifestyle or health regimen.

Tea & ♥,

6 comments

  1. I have trouble getting to sleep and discovered that if I alter my sleep schedule by a few hours, I actually get more sleep. For me, this means going to bed later and getting up later. Issues can be experienced if someone needs to go to bed earlier than they are, in order to get optimal amounts of sleep according to their natural rhythm (I think optimal sleep schedule terms are larks- early and owls- late). Obviously this isn’t possible for everyone for a variety of reasons, but if it is, it’s definitely worth a shot. The information i mentioned here is research conducted by a neuroscientist, from Stanford I believe.

    1. I agree with you on this. I find that I do better when I go to bed earlier in the evening because I seem to programmed to wake at around 5am, no matter what. Going to bed an hour or two earlier seems to work, and allows me to still fall asleep quickly, so my total time sleeping adds up to a bit more! Really depends on the person’s circadian rhythm, work schedule, and probably many other variables. Thanks for the tip, Holly!

  2. Hi Rachel!
    Fellow HSP/Introvert/INFJ here!
    Thanks for the article.
    Good ideas.
    Have you tried CBT-I (insomnia)? I’ve started it and it seems to be working. Basically boring yourself back to sleep. Rather than making your thoughts race, you just replace them with boring, dull thoughts. In most cases, it’s just your mind haywire and lots of the ‘scenarios’ you ‘create’ have no basis in reality.

    1. Yes, I have many of those thoughts, lol. I’ve never heard of, nor tried, CBT-I. I assume it’s a new cannabinoid on the market? I have used CBD oil for pain and inflammation, but doesn’t really do much for me for sleep since THC is typically more helpful for sleep and CBD oil doesn’t usually contain much of it, if any at all.

        1. Oops, too funny! Weirdly, when I looked it up, I found Cannabacitran as a new mysterious cannabinoid, so it’s a new thing, I guess. Anyway, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is something I’ve looked into, but have yet to personally try. I had the brain mapping done, which was interesting (and a tad concerning), but am in the middle of moving, so haven’t pursued it. Do you struggle with falling asleep, staying asleep, or both? How long have you been doing it and how much has it helped you so far?

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