Adjustment Insomnia: How to Manage Relocation Blues

Why moving abroad can cause adjustment insomnia, and how to manage adjustment insomnia.

Adjustment insomnia comes for us all, even if you already know how to move into your first apartment rental in Singapore or adjust to a different time zone. So you’re in your spanking new Singapore serviced apartment. All your things are still in boxes, though at least everything is there. It feels like the adrenaline is still rushing in your veins. The new chapter begins. But it’s getting late, and all the relaxation techniques just don’t work. You strap in for another bout of sleep deprivation.

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Adjustment Insomnia: The Most Common Type of Insomnia

Also known as acute insomnia or short-term insomnia, adjustment insomnia is characterised by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep that last for a few nights. This usually happens when you undergo a significant life change, or when there’s a lot of excitement or emotional distress. Moving abroad is definitely one of the biggest reasons for getting adjustment insomnia. Adjusting to a new environment can increase arousal, intrusive thoughts, worry and emotional discomfort which can make it difficult to relax and achieve restful sleep. After all, you barely know where to go when you get sick when you’re in a new place. 

Individuals with this sleep disorder may experience difficulty falling asleep, and/or maintaining sleep despite all the adequate opportunities and circumstances for sleep. Other common symptoms of adjustment insomnia include sleepless nights, and waking up frequently through the night. Their sleep patterns can be disrupted too, where they wake up too early in the morning and then struggle to get back to sleep.

Fortunately, adjustment insomnia is usually a temporary condition. Usually, it lasts less than three months, where it resolves on its own as individuals adapt to the new circumstances, or when the stressors diminish. That said, if the disruption to your sleep patterns persists and is affecting your normal routine, you may need to see a sleep specialist or a professional healthcare provider.

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Relocation Blues: How Moving Abroad Causes Adjustment Insomnia

Digital nomads and business travellers may be all too familiar with this. Moving within your hometown or your home city is already stressful enough, let alone moving to a new city or a new country. The relocation process can bring about plenty of psychological and emotional stresses. Because by moving abroad, individuals may be leaving behind familiar support systems, leading to increased anxiety, homesickness, and uncertainty. For some, all that makes it challenging to relax, leading to difficulties getting quality sleep.

Not to mention, there are new social and lifestyle adjustments too. There would be new work schedules, meal times, and social obligations. All of which could cause sleep disruptions as well. Figuring out how to fit into a new culture and people, as well as navigating new social expectations can be stressful, which may affect one’s regular sleep schedule too.

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The First Night Effect

The new physical environment may cause adjustment insomnia for expats and migrants too. As great as we are at adapting to new physical environments, it’s harder to fight our brain’s ancient instinct. Some call this the first night affect, the human equivalent of birds sleeping with one eye open, or how dolphins alternate sleep between two halves of the brain so they can sleep while remaining alert for other predators.

When we’re in a new serviced apartment or apartment rental, a part of our brain kicks into high alert because it’s not sure if the sleep environment is safe enough. In addition, a new place means new lighting conditions, bed quality, noise levels and climate. The discomfort of being in a new place, combined with the absence of familiar cues and routines, can make it difficult to sleep as well.

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7 Tips to Manage Adjustment Insomnia After Moving Abroad

Adjusting to an unfamiliar environment may take more time for some. But coping adjustment insomnia doesn’t need a lot of complex solutions. A few tweaks to your daytime habits and bedtime routine will help you sleep better by nurturing healthy sleep hygiene.

1. Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the afternoons and evenings

For Java Junkies, this may be one of the more challenging daytime habits to change. But it is possible, and it is worth it. And forget all the myths about how alcohol can help you sleep faster. Caffeine and alcohol not only make it more difficult to fall asleep, but also impairs your body’s ability to sleep deeply—a crucial aspect of achieving quality sleep.

2. Stop snacking before bed

Consuming a snack, especially those high in sugar or refined carbohydrates, can lead to rapid spikes and subsequent drops in blood sugar levels. That fluctuations can make it difficult to fall asleep and cause awakenings in the night. Heavy snacks can disrupt your sleep too, since indigestion and heartburn can cause discomfort during your sleep.

Of course, there are healthier alternatives. If snacking before you sleep is something you can’t kick off, find foods rich in sleep nutrients like tryptophan, magnesium, or melatonin. So try eating bananas, nuts, seeds, or tart cherries for your bedtime routine instead.

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3. Limit screen time before bed

You might already know about this. Exposure to blue light from our digital devices suppresses our body’s ability to produce melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Fiddling with our digital devices also heightens mental stimulation, as all that scrolling and playing engages with our brains, making it more difficult to unwind before bedtime.

4. Create a sleep-conducive environment

A conducive sleep environment will go a long way to curing adjustment insomnia because it makes it easier for your body to fall asleep. To create such an environment, keep your room dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. If there’s too much noise from the urban environment, you might need to get a white noise machine or earplugs (we swear by Audiplugs).

5. Establish a constant routine

Circadian rhythms. Body clock. You know the drill. While our lives can be in constant flux, one way to reduce and resolve adjustment insomnia is by going to bed and waking up at around the same time every day pm a regular basis. Yes, this applies during the weekends too.

That way, you can create a regular sleep patterns because you’re conditioning your body’s internal clock to anticipate sleep. This helps you improve your sleep quality and reduce the symptoms of insomnia.

Another way you can help your body prepare for sleep is to add predictable cues that signal your body to transition from wakefulness to sleep. You can try to read, or take a warm bath before you sleep. Relaxation techniques will help too, which we explore more in the next point.

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6. Practice relaxation techniques

Engaging in calming activities can help reduce stress, anxiety, and all those racing thoughts that contribute to adjustment insomnia. As you consistently practise these relaxing techniques and activities, you’re conditioning your mind and body for a more peaceful and restorative sleep. So perhaps you can start with listening to soothing music, or practising meditation or mindfulness before you sleep. For the fervent fitspos, stretching before you go to sleep can help too.

7. Find your support systems

We all need a little help sometimes. Talking about how you feel can actually help a lot. U.C.L.A. Researchers found that, by putting your feelings into words, something called “affect labelling”, diminishes the response of the amygdala when you encounter upsetting things. Over time, you can become less stressed over something that bothers you.

Take Things Step by Step

Change is never easy. But understanding how and why you’re getting adjustment insomnia can help you better prepare. Lack of sleep can also mess up our physical health and body processes, let alone our daily routines. With a consistent sleep schedule and quality sleep, you’d feel more prepared for what’s next in your new chapter.

That said, if none of the suggestions helped, do consult with your healthcare provider or a sleep specialist. Don’t have the time? Schedule a telehealth consultation instead, some of which can prescribe and deliver over-the-counter medications to help your sleep right to your doorstep.

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