I Just Want to Sleep!

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

Practicing Gratitude

One summer, my mom and I decided we would start  practicing gratitude together.  I was working in a different province at the time, so we would exchange our pieces of gratitude over the phone, e-mail or snail mail. It was helpful to have someone accountable to share the pieces of my day/week with that made me thankful.  I agreed to embark on this adventure with her, which meant I had to start actively  paying attention to what I was thankful for.

One piece of gratitude I'll never forget occurred when I was driving to work one morning.  As I turned the corner to drive up the last hill before work, I noticed someone had peeled up the yellow dividing line and created  a huge smiley face right in the centre of the road. Upon inquiry with the usual suspects (teenage coworkers who lived a few blocks over), told me they peeled the yellow lines off the asphalt just after it was placed down by city workers the night before and made a smiley face from it*.  I'm sure if you tried hard to scowl at it, you could... but it was simply too hard not to be overcome by a smile as you ran passed it. 

I get this same feeling when I drive down Hwy 24 from Cambridge to Guelph, ON.  For years I've wanted to thank the farmer who, year after year, continues to cut into his field a huge smiley face for all to see who pass by. I don't know why he does it, but I am thankful he does... I can't imagine I am the only one. 

Of course, it's easy to practice gratitude when life is going well.  It's when life gets rough or when recovery seems exhausting that it becomes more difficult to see pockets of thankfulness. I urge you, however, to find them... because they are there. It can be as simple as being thankful for the way the sun is shinning that day... or you hear a song you like on the radio.  It doesn't have to be a big event or exude the purest form of joy you have ever felt... it just has to be something that makes life a little more tolerable than it did before it occurred. The more you do it, the easier it becomes...

So... when your right eye is watering and it's driving you nuts... be thankful that you have another eye that is working as it should (this was me two weeks ago!). When you are sitting in front of a meal that is triggering, be thankful that the plate it is on is clean. If you're in an inpatient program and you're missing school, maybe there's a sense of thankfulness that your room has a window. There's always something... it's there. Will you allow yourself to see it?

*I do not condone this act and recognize it is illegal... it still makes me smile though :)