So You Can’t Sleep: How To Overcome Occasional Insomnia

Let me preface this by saying that I am not a morning person. It’s exhausting to even hold a conversation before my second cup of coffee. That being said, I am a college student who has learned the hard way that getting into your first choice class comes at the cost of waking up at an ungodly hour. Although I don’t always want to wake up in the morning, here are some strategies that have made it slightly more bearable.

The Night Before:

It’s almost impossible to run a marathon cold turkey. Having never run a marathon myself, getting out of bed on a Monday morning is the closest I’ve gotten to that feeling of immense victory. It’s also the closest I’ve gotten to understanding the importance of preparation. Waking up is a marathon – not a sprint. Your sleep the night prior to that dreadful alarm accounts for miles one through twelve. Do this to make sure you’re still on your feet for mile thirteen:

Save the Coffee for the Morning.

If the clock says PM, resort to decaf. This includes energy drinks, tea, and soda as well. Caffeine can stay in the system for up to twelve hours. At the bare minimum, cut off caffeine at least six hours before you hit the sack.

Speaking of Drugs…

Keep your distance from alcohol and nicotine as well. Although alcohol is a depressant and might initially help you fall asleep, your body goes through withdrawal while you’re asleep and causes restlessness and frequent nightmares. While nicotine also has a relaxing effect, it is a stimulant just like caffeine and shouldn’t be ingested for at least 40 minutes prior to falling asleep.

Turn off that Screen!

Looking at a screen increases electrical activity in your brain. Your body releases cortisol, a stress hormone released by the adrenal gland. The light from your cell phone or computer alters your melatonin levels so that your body doesn’t know it’s time for sleep. Those are a lot of complex terms that are more or less conveying the message that technology is not a night-time activity. If you must squeeze in that hour of late night TV, do so outside of your bed. If work and play are done in bed, your brain does not learn to associate your bed with sleep and you’re in for a lot of late nights.

Plan Ahead.

Show morning you some love from evening you. Lay out your clothes, your keys, your makeup, and whatever else you might need in the morning. Instead of making the dramatic decision to start waking up at 6:45 instead of 7, dial back gradually. Set your alarm back one minute every one or two days. On Monday, wake up at 6:59. On Tuesday, rise and shine at 6:58. And so on, and so on…

The Morning of:

We aren’t perfect. Alcohol, nicotine, and coffee are more often than not consumed later rather than earlier. In the case that your night’s sleep wasn’t as thorough as you might have hoped, here are some tips for the morning after:

You Snooze, You Lose.

Fewer things are more tempting than the snooze button first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, your alarm can be your best friend or biggest enemy. Pressing the snooze button can restart your sleep cycle and make it even more difficult to wake up the second time around. Put your alarm clock on the other side of the room if it helps, or download an app like this that charges you a dollar for every time you press snooze. In extreme situations, here are 11 alarm clocks that work well enough for even the deepest sleepers.  

Essential Oils

My mom is a yoga instructor in California who buys deodorant from Whole Foods and dried fruit for dessert. I started getting essential oil care packages in college my freshman year. I was skeptical at first, but now I apply at least four different blends a day. Essential oils can be applied directly to your temples and the back of your neck, or blended with a lotion of your choosing. Peppermint, orange, eucalyptus, and lemon essential oils’ energizing properties are arguably just as invigorating as that second cup of coffee.

The menthol in peppermint oil immediately wakes you up and can help alleviate headaches, mental fatigue, muscular pain, nausea and menopausal hot flushes.

Orange essential oil was originally used as a hangover cure in Ancient Greece and is especially useful for mornings where you feel like you’ve just risen from the dead.

Eucalyptus oil’s pungent smell immediately wakes you up and can help relieve congestion. Mix a few drops of water in a diffuser (Amazon, 25.99) to alleviate cold symptoms.

Lemon is a “warming oil” that is frequently used in aromatherapy to clear the head. Its warming properties make it perfect for cold mornings that make bed especially hard to leave.

Get Chilly

Cold releases adrenaline which speeds up your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain. Get out from under your warm blankets and splash some cold water on your face. Before you reach for that warm cup of coffee or tea, down a glass of ice water. Not only does it provide the adrenaline benefit, it also revives cells that have shriveled up because of sleep-induced dehydration.

Eat Breakfast. Seriously.

By now, we all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Granted, some foods are better at waking you up than others. Breakfast determines your blood sugar levels for the rest of the day.  A mixture of energy-boosting carbohydrates and proteins that provide stamina is an easy way to wake up and stay up. A snack with at least 10 grams of protein allows for a steady blood sugar rise and stabilizes your cortisol levels for hours. Some examples include:

Whole-grain bagel with peanut butter

Whole-grain toast with avocado and a hard boiled egg

Oatmeal with raisins

Smoothie with banana, strawberries, almond milk, and chia seeds

Don’t Eat Breakfast Alone.

If you start your day in the cafeteria, even better. Talking to friends in our comfort zone means that, while we are still engaging, we can do so half-heartedly. Talking to strangers, however, wakes up the body as a means of preventing social awkwardness. 

There is no magic answer to the marathon that is getting up in the morning. Everybody’s body responds differently to different strategies, and it’s important to find one that works without making you utterly miserable. So, if that third glass of wine or midnight premiere of your favorite show is too hard to resist, try rubbing some lemon oil on your temples as you heat up a piece of whole grain toast.


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