I don’t know about you, but when I don’t get enough sleep, I start to crumble. I am more sensitive, unmotivated, tired, and lose the ability to hold a level of rationality needed to balance myself emotionally. My reserves are tapped and I need those reserves!
As a kid growing up, sleep overs were awesome! It was fun to stay up late playing Nintendo, watching movies or reenacting scenes from Ninja Turtles. I was no treat to be around the next day if an early morning was in store or chores awaited upon getting home. I’m sure the gerbil cages could have handled another day… or week… before getting cleaned (I mean, even on a rested day, who wants to handle rodent poop!).
Enough rambling about 4 legged creatures or pizza eating turtles who live in sewers… Let’s talk about sleep hygiene. At some point in my early twenties, I realized how much I hated going to church, ringette or work half dead due to a late night shenanigans. It wasn’t worth it. Not the most popular of choices back then, but now I try as much as I can to protect my sleep (for everyone’s sake, but mostly mine!). I often hear clients talk about their lack of sleep. And, sometimes, it is related to their illness. Regardless of the reason, we could all benefit from practicing the following:
1) Start settling down an hour before you want to be asleep. If you know you want to be asleep by 11pm (let’s say), around 10pm, go pee, start brushing your teeth, wash your face, put your pj’s on, go pee again and hop into bed.
2) Get up after 15 minutes. If you’ve been tossing and turning for 15 minutes after trying to fall asleep, get up out of bed and return 15 minutes later. This can help reset your brain that it is sleep time.
3) Calm those thoughts with mindfulness. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to fall asleep and all you can think about is that history paper you still have to finish or that you aren't asleep yet. Take a moment and think about what you see (nothing because my eyes are shut), hear (light traffic outside, breathing), taste (good old Colgate), feel (the warm blankets) and smell (stale bedroom air). This will help bring your attention to the present instead of that battle of 1812. You can also think of your calm place discussed in previous posts. Maybe you’re in a old forest, in the spring time, with lovely little forest dwellers scampering around your feet. You hear the babbling brook nearby. It’s warm, yet cool from the shade. There are definitely NO mosquitoes or black flies. You can use these skills if you wake up in the middle of the night as well.
4) See’ya later screens! The lights from T.V.s or phones can be disruptive to falling or staying asleep. The brightness triggers your brain into thinking it’s time to be up and awake, versus settling to sleep. Put them away and try set your phone to 'do not disturb' to avoid 3am Tweets from your night owl friends (who will be grouchy in the morning from a lack of sleep).
5) Avoid stimulants. Caffeine, working out, reading/listening/watching captivating mysteries/murders and talking to aunt Ida who drives you up a wall, aren’t conducive in helping you fall asleep. Try finding soothing activities to do at night, like lighting a candle or listening to relaxing music (pick Enya versus Marilyn Manson, regardless of how beautiful the people are)..
6) Have a safety object on hand. Specifically for those who have trauma or nightmares and wake up distressed or in a panic, try designating a safety/calm item in your room. Maybe it’s a blanket, stuffed animal or clock. Having a designated object to look at when you wake up from a panic attacked/nightmare can assist in shifting your focus from distress to that of calmness. Remind yourself before going to bed that if you wake up in the middle of the night feeling panicked, with a racing heart beat and quick shallow breathing, looking at object “X” will remind you that you are okay and that it was just a dream/memory. Then, focus on your breathing and mindfulness skills and go back to sleep.
7) Temperature, noise and light. Dark, quiet and cold rooms are best for sleeping conditions. Some people prefer to have white noise if silence is unsettling.
8) Use your bedroom for sex and sleep only. Condition your mind/body to know your bedroom is for calming or sexual activities only. Take the TV and studying to the other room. I know this can be challenging if you are living in residence or have siblings/children, but the more you can separate these activities from sleep/sex, the better.
Medication is sometimes needed to assist with falling/staying asleep. Always talk with your doctor before going on any type of medication/supplement for sleep. The above skills are always worth learning. Knowing you have resources in your back pajama pocket may bring the peace of mind you just might (yawn)….. need in order to….(yawn)…. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz