Sleep and I have always been at odds. Anxiety plagued me as a child, when, upon my jittery insistence, my wildly patient parents would sit outside my door at night, counting down the minutes until I dozed off. While I thankfully grew out of this “fear period” before it became weird (I was five, I think) I have never figured out how to cure insomnia, which has reared its unnerving head in many forms over the years.
Problem number one: it takes me forever to fall asleep, a credit to my nocturnal mind. It may be a familiar dance to you, that lights-out anxiety waltz: hello, person I forgot to text back today *steps forward* Did I remember to lock the back door? *steps right* Now, a quick run-through of the 20 random tasks I intend to tackle tomorrow *final twirl*.
Combine this with the second dilemma: I’m an incredibly light sleeper. A few years ago, we had a power outage at 3AM, and the sound of the whisper-quiet fan turning off was enough to jerk me awake. Good protective instincts? Yes. Poor REM cycles and sleep habits? Also yes.
And then there was 2020 (waves goodbye forever). The year when, according to Google, the term insomnia was searched more than ever before, with “COVID-insomnia” becoming a household phrase after neurologists linked increased sleep disturbances to the pandemic. I found myself in the same camp, a welcome feeling of togetherness in a year punctuated by loneliness and isolation. So I embraced the chaotic year as an opportunity to find stillness, to cast aside habits that don’t serve me, and to improve my sleep hygiene once and for all.
Related: Stress vs anxiety: How to tell the difference.
My Journey battling insomnia (hello, dear friend)
First, I began with the obvious: banishing technology from the bedroom, and drifting off to the compelling prose in a hardcover rather than my glowing phone screen. I’m not always successful, but digital minimalism is forever a work in progress. Some nights, I’ll unplug by listening to a 10-minute guided meditation before wrapping myself under the covers. A sleeping primer of sorts, but on its own not enough to set me up for snooze success.
Enter my first glorious bedroom addition: a weighted blanket. Now is probably the appropriate time to disclose that my anxieties occasionally manifest in the form of Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), a condition that, when prompted by stress, results in an uncomfortable, incessant urge to move your legs, no matter how fatigued you might feel. I sometimes describe it as if electricity is shooting through my veins, propelling me to toss and turn until the sensation eases. Having a weighted blanket to counterbalance is comforting and helpful during these spells.
Related: I tried 9 insomnia remedies, here’s how I found sleep.
Supporting slumber with an unexpected sleep aid
While I wish all of the above was enough to promise deep, undisturbed shut-eye each night, that would prove too easy, right? I’m going to go ahead and assume many of you reading are met with sleep struggles, too. So, it’s time I grace you with my best-kept sleep secret: Passionflower extract. Come again? Hear me out. It’s a natural, herbal remedy with known calming effects (specifically the Passiflora incarnata species) that’s been around for centuries. Some researchers believe Passiflora incarnata can effectively treat anxiety and insomnia, and might even prove an effective agent for certain pain management. The reason: Studies suggest the supplement can increase levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain to help regulate mood.
It’s time I grace you with my best-kept sleep secret: Passionflower extract.
The extract, in the form of a tincture, was first introduced to me by a naturopath after I detailed my sleep struggles. She mentioned using the extract too, while warning that one side effect she experienced was hyper-lucid dreams. Though not entirely convinced this “magical potion” would cure my insomnia, I purchased the product, dispensed a few drops into my water that night, and soon entered a beautiful sleep journey, interspersed with the most vivid, life-like dreams I’ve (maybe) ever had.
I don’t rely on the supplement to sleep each night, and some weeks are better than others, but knowing that the small, unassuming vile is tucked away is all the reassurance I need to slow down the rhythm of my thoughts, allowing them to dance to a more blissful beat.