Nighttime 201: Small Sleep Strategies that Make a Big Difference

  It may seem the techniques that were offered in our Nighttime 101 Guide are a bit more on the advanced side as they compare to what's about to be presented in Nighttime 201.  So, why would they have come first when these are more simplistic, quicker fixes?  Well, we recognize that the techniques mentioned in Nighttime 101 do take a more in-depth understanding and require a greater effort overall, but we really feel that for survivors with Complex PTSD, that approach to sleep is truly your first line of defense. It is your foundation. If you cannot successfully apply some of those tools, your sleep could remain interrupted and fitful - even if you completed every single item on this list.  The tips and tricks here feel a bit more like icing on the cake; things to add to your already-stable base that will improve the quality of the rest you may finally be getting.  It's possible that some of these could actually become a part of your foundation, particularly if they tackle a critical issue that's been keeping you up.  But, for the most part, none of these alone will be the key that unlocks decades of restlessness for you.  They're likely to improve what you've already been working on, tie up loose ends and settle any of the hiccups still causing you grief.  We do, however, think that these tips and ideas can be incredibly beneficial to consider and will still make a world of difference for so many of you.  Sometimes the simplest of steps can make some of the largest differences in this complicated fight for good sleep.
So, here is a list of several additional things you can do that may lead to safer, more comfortable, restorative, and peaceful rest.

  • Make your room, and your bed, an inviting place to be.  If your room is full of clutter, food, your school or work items; or is comprised of drab colors, lifeless pillows, or contains only the bare bones necessary to call it a bedroom?  How is your poor mind ever supposed to want to be there for several hours?  How is it supposed to feel calm and secure and nurtured?  Warm it up.  Make it a place that welcomes you, pulls you in, is a place you want to be.  Keep it decluttered, refreshing, and not too busy.  Try not to bring things into it that wind you up or stress you out -like work or school.  Create a sea of fluffy pillows, cozy blankets, soft colors.  Maybe add a few nice pictures or go real crazy and buy some new drapery that makes it look like you really know what you're doing in there. ;) Try out a simple DIY project that makes you proud of yourself and what you've done with the space.  (And hey, not crafty at all?  All the more reason to create something just for you!  Because not only will you be even more proud of what you were able to make, you'll always be reminded of the fact you believed you were worth that effort! Because you are!)  Even with the smallest of budgets, it's possible to take a space you've sorely neglected and transform it into your perfect, personalized little oasis.  And, this seemingly insignificant change to where you rest your head can actually do wonders for your mind and body - which leads to more Zzz's.
  • Use signs or pictures near your bed to help with grounding.  Put notes and personalized reminders right where you can see them from your space on the bed.  Create a pretty sign for the wall, put a notecard or photo in a frame that stays on your nightstand, decorate the ceiling if you have to!  Make something that has the current year in bold lettering, along with with other grounding or reassuring statements that you need.  Perhaps you need to elaborate further on where you are, how old you are, that you are safe now, a mantra that settles or re-centers you - anything that you know you'll need to see the moment you open your eyes.  So, whether you wake from a nightmare, re-open your eyes as you're drifting, or are wrestling with flashbacks during the night - having those reminders right where you can see them without having to work too hard to find them can really be the thing that helps you until you're in a better place to help yourself.
  • Make a music playlist just for sleep.  The options here are limitless.  Some like calming versions of songs they even enjoy during the daytime, while others go for ambient music made just for sleep, classical sonatas, or even kids' lullaby music.  If you have child parts inside, sometimes an album full of kids' music (or just sprinkling a song or six into your otherwise adult playlist) can be great for all of you as a unit. Whether you find a Fisher Price or Baby Mozart album made with newborns and young children in mind, pretty Helen Jane Long albums, any of Sleeping At Last's instrumental tracks, or songs from your favorite film score; there is such a wide range of music out there that can help you strike a balance between adult and childlike music.  ..no matter which end of that spectrum you'd like to fall on.  Even if you don't have parts inside, you'd be amazed how much lullaby-esque songs can soothe even the toughest of adults, sending them peacefully into dreamland.
    Some individuals prefer there be lyrics, so as to keep their mind engaged and less likely to drift into dark places, while others need zero lyrics because they keep them awake or cause them sing along ;)  Whatever you need is just right and is definitely out there with a little bit of effort!  Change it up weekly if you need, or keep it exactly the same so that your body always knows it's time to rest when you hear it.  And?  If you sleep with a partner who's anti-tunes, the lightest little bit of quiet music from beneath your pillow can still be more than enough to reach you.  Headphones/earbuds are also an option, but we'll hit on those later!
  • Discover podcasts, Spotify playlists, or white noise apps that really appeal to you.  The internet and smartphones/iPods have changed the game in helping people get some sleep - particularly if they cannot staaaaand silence, yet outside noise keeps them up.  Entire Spotify playlists exist just for sleep.  There are apps upon apps upon apps that contain soothing sounds or "white noise" options specifically designed to help you rest easier.  And if music isn't your thing but a flashing TV is too much, podcasts might be your solution.  Find one you love, one that bores you to tears, or is a happy medium between fascinating and something you aren't too invested in - that way you can stop listening and fall asleep without being sad you missed something important.  Podcasts without massive highs and lows in volume or content that could be stressful are most recommended.  Some of us find that the podcast A Way With Words fits that bill nicely :) But there are tons out there for you to discover.
  • Consider buying some darkening curtains/blinds. If you are super light-sensitive or find you're only able to sleep during the day, a set of darkening curtains/blinds can be a lifesaver.  And the good news is, inexpensive stores like Walmart and Target even have some great options now.  We're sure other outlets or discount fabric stores would have even more impressive prices, but you don't have to completely break the bank for darkening curtains anymore.
  • Conversely, buy lighter blinds if you have a hard time waking up or like to sleep all day as an escape.  We all want our blinds closed at night so no one can see in, but if you're prone to sleeping in all day or struggle with depression to the point it keeps you returning to that bed in the daytime - some lighter blinds may be what you need.  A bright, sunny room is harder for many to sleep in, but it also helps keep your internal clock more aware of the time of day - willing you to stay awake.  Staying on a proper sleep|wake schedule during the day can make resting at night a much better experience.
  • Consider going to bed with a full tummy.  We know traditional sleep guides (and whack diet advise columns) insist on not eating an hour or more before bed.  Whether they claim it gives you bad dreams or makes you gain weight, little to no science agrees.  And when it comes to Complex PTSD specifically, for many survivors, an empty stomach can be upsetting for a number of reasons.  Some grew up rather poor and had to go to bed hungry each night.  Others were plainly denied food as punishment or as part of their abuse.  Many survivors have struggled severely with eating disorders, and may even still be struggling.  Some simply just could not eat after trauma when they were young, or wouldn't do so before bed if they thought trauma was imminent because it made them sick.  Alllllll of these reasons and countless others can be terrible reminders of trauma, pain and sickness - and the simple growl of your stomach as you try to go to sleep can signal to your mind and body that you aren't okay.  Something as simple as heading to bed with a satisfied, or even full, tummy can lead many to feel more secure, and thusly safe enough to disengage for rest.  And, eating a bit before bed can even lead some to just naturally get sleepier, solely because their body is no longer trying to get their attention to tell them they're hungry.  Imagine that!
  • Try not to drink too much right before bed.  Conversely to above, drinking too much before you head to bed can not only make you feel a little sloshy when you lay down, but it frequently leads to that midnight bathroom run.  Sometimes just KNOWING you'll need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night can keep you restless and unable to fall asleep as easily just because you're on alert - anticipating when it's time to "go".  And, above all, once you've had to get up to make that pit stop, it can sometimes be nearly impossible for sooooo many of you to get back to sleep. We don't want that for you.
  • Make sure to listen to what YOU need, not just what someone else tells you is good or bad to do before bed - including us!  There are countless guides out there telling you what to do and not to do at night.  Whether it's the ones that say don't eat before bed, to never sleep with a TV on, not to drink ANY caffeine 12 hours (or whatever arbitrary number) before bed, don't exercise or be active at night, or any other seemingly sound rule -- no rule is gospel.  And that includes ours!  Some can drink coffee RIGHT up until the second they lay down without the slightest disturbance.  Others require a TV on.  And, someone else may not even be able to tolerate laying down without having a huge mug of their favorite beverage first.  Listen to your needs and know that your body may be more or less sensitive to certain things than others'.  No matter what someone else insists is the root of your sleep problems, they might not be right.  And only you can know that.  We provide suggestions based on what we've seen in so very many survivors - but wholly recognize that it won't apply to each and every one of you.  Feel free to pass on those that don't!  You know you better than we (or anyone else out there) ever could.  Try out new things - as you may be surprised by their effectiveness, or your ability to adjust to something you thought you'd hate but really helps - but ultimately do what your body needs.
  • Invest in nicer pillows, throw blankets, or comfort items.  Not only do some of these items make your room LOOK nicer and more inviting, they are actually comforting to your physical body and mind together.  They make you eager to lay down in your now very gorgeous bed.  The sense of being able to flop down on pure comfort, or cozy up in the softest, snuggliest of blankets, just automatically makes your body want to relax and let its guard down for the night. Don't have much money?  Sometimes something as simple as buying some extra stuffing for 3 bucks on Amazon (especially if you have, or want to buy, pillows that zip close) that you can use to fluff up your pillows to your own desired squishiness can make a dramatic difference in the coziness of your bed.  Sure beats a flat and sad pillow. ;)  So Fluffy.  Much Pinterest.
  • Pajamas. In the same spirit, get yourself some nice pajamas or underclothes for sleep -- something you can't wait to get into and that immediately makes you feel ready for bed.  Ragged T-shirts and basic cotton bottoms can get the job done, but if you're really struggling to sleep, sometimes just taking a little more interest in you and what you wear can be a game-changer.  It's also about self-care.  Not only do you just feel snuggly in your nice, new PJs, you also feel taken care of.  ...reminded that you are worth the rest you are about to get.  You are worth more than just that disheveled tee and holey pants you've been wearing for years.  If you have an impossible time feeling motivated to lay down, a new set of nice PJs can make you a bit more eager to get started so you can be in those comfy clothes sooner.  [As an aside, they don't even have to be FANCY pajamas by any stretch.  Sometimes just getting something new is enough.  It feels fresh.  It feels different.  It feels special.  Too many of us have been in the same haggard jammies for yeeeeeears.  A simple item or two can spruce things up a lot and remind you that you deserve to be comfortable.  You're worthy of good sleep.]
  • Linen sprays or fragrance/oils. If you aren't a fancy schmancy homemaker, you might not have even known there's such a thing as linen sprays.  But, boy, are they a thing!  There are so many fragrances you can put on your linens that just call to you - inviting you to breathe them in deeply and just melt into them deeper as you exhale.  Isn't that what we all WANT to feel when we hit the bed for the first time after a long day?  Find a fragrance that does that for you.  The same is true with essential oils or other items that produce fragrance.  Whether you believe in the natural calming properties of various essential oils or not, some of the scents alone can just take you to a nice and relaxed state that speaks directly to you and your needs. 
  • Light a candle a bit before bed that will leave your room with a pleasant aroma.  We don't want you to leave candles lit while you sleep, but sometimes lighting a candle for an hour or so before bed and blowing it out still leaves the room billowing with a fragrance you love.  This is not only calming, pleasant, and/or inviting, it can be really grounding as a strong scent to keep you in the present.
  • Consider purchasing a tiny child's stuffed animal or baby blanket - even as an adult.  It may seem silly, but sometimes that younger you who feels so afraid of sleep can feel at ease by these little gestures.  You're never too old, too cool, or too anything for a stuffed animal or small blanket.  And, if you have internal parts, this simple "gift" can bring such wonderful comfort to you all.
  • Try color breathing before bed or once you lay down.  This is a wonderful way to calm down. Additional breathing techniques, especially those combined with visual imagery, may be equally as helpful if you have one you really like.  You can also create your own technique!  Yes, you are completely allowed to just make something up.  Not every breathing technique has to come from a manual, guide, doctor, or study.  Sometimes you know just what settles you best.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation.  Here is one example, but there are many - some even come with audio recordings to lead you through.
  • Healing light/healing pool imagery for pain.  Healing light and healing pool, along with some other similar imagery-based techniques, can be critical skills in relieving physical pain that could be the root of what's keeping you up.  You can read about those here.  They can also just be so satisfyingly relaxing for mental distress, upsetting emotions, or to just relieve natural tension we all carry.  
  • Consider asking your therapist to make you a voice recording. They aren't hard to do anymore, as just about every smartphone has a record feature that can then be easily sent through email (or even text if it's short enough).  The recording could be a guided imagery, various grounding statements, or just generalized comforting thoughts to lead you to sleep.  Hearing them from your therapist can offer an added layer of security and calm that we can all use as we try to rest our eyes.
  • Positive reinforcements and gratitudes.  We mentioned something similar in our Nighttime 101 Guide, but that was a bit more specific to journaling practices before bed.  This is something you can just do in your mind.  If you are particularly restless, in an anxious or upset place, or just can't stop the recursive self-shaming that your mind wants to do as you rethink the day - consider trying to redirect your thoughts to naming 5 positive things about the day.  They don't have to be groundbreaking, but they're there.  You'll find them even on the worst of days.  Similarly, you can think of 5 or 10 things you're thankful for - in general or even just that day.  For others, you may want to pick 3-5 things you like about yourself or that you did right/well that day.  Challenging other cognitive distortions may be an area someone else needs to focus on.  Whatever you need most, just be sure to flip the script to this tone of thought and you'll be grateful for how much calmer and sleepier you feel.
  • Do some light stretching before bed.  Tension is a jerk.  It causes pain, increases anxiety, steepens depressive feelings, and just plainly makes us miserable. Some slow stretching can get out the excess energy still zinging through your nervous system from the day, while also soothing and calming your body down for the night.  It can loosen stiff muscles, un-pinch painful spots, and send fresh blood throughout your whole system so that your body can more effectively heal and repair itself during your period of rest.
  • Temperature, pets, and outside influences.  There are so many things outside of us that we can't control that keep us up, so anything we can do to tend to them before laying down we should definitely do. Double-check that the temperature will still be comfortable as night falls, your pets are where they need to be (with you or closed away in their sleeping area), family members are aware you're trying to turn down, your phone's notifications are silenced, any TV timers are set, you have any extra blankets or socks you may need already in reach, contacts are out, mouthguard is washed, makeup is off, meds are taken, etc etc.  Literally double-check all the things that could make you have to get up after you've already snuggled in (or worse, already fallen asleep).  Nooooooo one likes having to get up after they've already experienced that first wonderful sigh climbing into bed.  The second time around is never nearly as satisfying, and if you were already asleep, getting back to sleep can be a nightmare on its own.
  • Wash your sheets frequently.  Simple, simple.  Little is more inviting than fresh sheets to make your body feel peaceful and happy when you lay down.  Crumbs, dirt or "stale" sheets aren't exactly the most welcoming invitation for your dreams and sleep.  Wash 'em.  You'll be glad you did.
  • Consider buying a therapeutic pillow or (if you have the finances for it), a new mattress. This is certainly not in the realm of possibilities for everyone - and it's something most of us have all heard plenty of times.  ...but sometimes the solution to poor sleep really does lie within your mattress and pillow.  Given so many survivors with C-PTSD are also sufferers of chronic pain, a proper mattress and pillow that supports your head and neck sufficiently may be what you truly need.
  • Invest in some soft and pliable earbuds. For many, aaany outside noise at all will wake them up or keep them from sleeping.  But earplugs can be unsettling (all you hear is yourself breathing IN your ears), and many headphones aren't comfortable to sleep with.  There are a few companies that make super soft and flimsy earbuds that have little to no hard plastic or metal at least inside your ear - and some even have fairly soft connecting pieces, so even if you laid on your side it wouldn't hurt your ears.  We know that Samsung makes a few, but there are most assuredly other companies out there, too.  This would not only allow you to listen to music/podcasts/recordings/white noise without bothering anyone else (particularly if you have a partner or have to sleep in a more public area for a trip or something) - but for those really sensitive to outside noise, earbuds ensure that you hear nothing else.  The sounds you want to hear just get injected into your ears and fill your whole head with goodness and block out the outside - effectively shutting out the world and leaving you free to get the sleep you need.  Now, some don't mind sleeping on even the hard earbuds (and we recommend giving it a go if you don't mind) - but if you can't take the discomfort, spending a little extra money for the softer ones might let you sleep through the night bot pain- and distraction-free.
  • Look into information regarding blue light or the effect electronics can have on your sleep cycle.  There is now a ton of literature on the way the 'blue light' from our electronics can affect brain activity, but more importantly, how it can alter the cadence of our sleep cycle.  There are various ways to turn this off in our devices.  If this is something that concerns you, something you want to learn more about, or if you just want to learn how to turn it off in your personal gadgets, you shouldn't have to google too far before you find just what you need.  It could make a difference - particularly if you're someone who is more sensitive to it than you ever knew.
  • Get browser extensions that won't allow you on certain apps/websites at certain times.  Ha, yes, they exist out there!  And there are plenty of them - for both computer and mobile - that are designed to meet your specific needs.  These can be extremely helpful in getting you off youtube/social media/gaming websites if you just can't resist or are using them as a distraction to keep you from sleeping.  Many allow you to set the time you need it run as an "every day at this time" function, or require you to turn them on when you need it and set it for hour or more, and most are created to ensure that even IF you uninstall it, the timer will still be in effect until it runs out.  ...so you can't cheat by just getting rid of it!  If you find yourself glued to your phone or computer when you should be sleeping (or working!), you may need to look into these extensions and apps that exist to help you out here.
  • Better waking up.  If you can wake up easier and more smoothly, you're much more likely to be ready to sleep when bedtime rolls around. If you have trouble sleeping TOO long, ignore your alarms, or return to bed during the day, we all know how this disrupts sleep rhythm and leaves you wide awake come nighttime.  When it comes to waking...  Set alarms that have music that MAKE you want to get up - invigorating fun music.  Something that makes you happy.  We don't like the idea of obnoxious, annoying alarms because that just puts you in a bad mood the second you open your eyes.  ...or rather before you've even had a chance to open them!  And that doesn't make aaaaanyone want to be awake.  Start your day off right with something that makes you happy.  And change it often so that happy-fun-new-alarm-that-you-love doesn't turn IN to something you hate! No one likes when a good song gets ruined! ;) Put your phone across the room so you have to get up to turn it off.  Incentivize.  If you get up and stay up, you get to have x treat.  Remind yourself that if you're TRULY that exhausted by late afternoon, you are allowed take a short nap then.  ...but not until you've given the day your best shot for a good while.  You'll be surprised how ready to get up you actually were.
  • Just. Get. Started.  The hardest part of *any* task - absolutely any task whatsoever, including something as seemingly simple as heading to bed - is just getting started.  Once you get up, begin your nighttime routine and start aiming for bed, you'll be baffled by just how ready for sleep you really were. ...no matter how sure you were that you were totally wired and sleep was nowhere in the near future.  Just. get. started.  Once you mentally "turn off" and start heading for the pillow, you'll be consistently impressed almost every night at just how much your body was craving the collapse.   ..even though it was only mere seconds ago that you were convinced otherwise.
  • Give it a shot anyway.  Sufferers of chronic sleep disturbances are no stranger to the losing game of just not being able to sleep, no matter how hard they try.  You can do everything right, but still be awake for ages after you lay down.  But, after experiencing this so much over time, we can convince ourselves so confidently each night that "it's just not gonna happen tonight", because for so much of our lives it really hasn't.  But this kneejerk response to how we THINK sleep will go can lead us to staying up far longer than necessary as we refuse to even entertain the idea of settling down yet.  ...because "we just know".  But our confirmation bias - looking for only the signs that prove we were right - can actually influence what our body believes, and lead it to respond in a way that keeps us running.  WE can be the reason behind why we're still up because we just decided how our body was likely feeling, and it followed suit.  But, sad to say, we're often wrong.  Had we just given it a shot anyway, we would've actually been fast asleep by now.  So, what's the worst that happens if you do give it a shot?  You get nice and ready for bed and it's a no-go.  Oh well.  So you get up or do something in bed and try again later.  But at least you're now cozier in your PJs and physically ready for bed.  So the moment you are sleepy, you can just turn down right away instead of having to "wake yourself up" just to go get ready for bed. ...additionally running the risk of missing the window of opportunity we all know exists.  But hey, the other possibility is that you might actually crash.  You've been trained your whole life to ignore your body.  You'd be amazed (and impressed) by how exhausted and ready for sleep it can actually be without you realizing it. You're very rarely going to regret trying, but you almost aaaalways regret waiting too long to try.  ...especially the moment you go to wake up the next morning!
  • Finally, we can't forget about things like journaling, internal communication, grounding, medication, and more (each discussed in our first post)!  The suggestions here may be a bit easier to apply, but the skills there will be relevant and useful throughout your entire life - no matter where the home you live ing or the path life's taken you.  Give those a look-see and don't forget their importance either :)

  Now it's your turn!  Because so many of these are much simpler, we are certain that many of you have toooons of other ideas just like 'em!  Tell us, and the countless other survivors reading, what you do to get some sleep!  What's the one thing you can't get to sleep without, or has made the biggest difference for you in your journey for better rest?

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If you'd like to catch any of our other recent or informative posts, catch them here:
- Nighttime 101
- Grounding 101
- Coping with Toxic/Abuse Families
- Holiday Survival Guide