I used to lie in bed at night and dread the hours that lay ahead of me. When I was younger, sleep was the highlight of my day but now it had become one of the main stresses in my life. I diagnosed myself with sleep problems!
Do you find yourself running madly all day long, with that to-do list seemingly never ending?Literally from the second you get up to the very end of your day it feels as if you can't breathe. You can't fit in all the things you need to do: shopping, children, cooking, organizing, exercising - let alone your job and all those social and family commitments? That's how I felt – utterly overwhelmed. Sometimes it seemed as if I seriously couldn't manage much more. Because I couldn’t rest properly at night, I woke up feeling more and more exhausted each morning. And when I went on holiday to relax and feel better, I got ill - colds or flu regularly ruined my rest time. It was as if my mind had been keeping it all at bay, until it finally found a convenient space (for it, not me!) to let go.
Too wired to sleep
Having trouble unwinding at night is often connected to being too wired during the day. A lot of our sleep problems come down to fact that our minds so rarely 'let go'. We have forgotten how to relax and are mentally on duty 24/7. Our brains are in a state of constant emergency - the primitive fight or flight response permanently activated, triggering surges of adrenaline to keep us charged. No wonder by the end of the day you feel exhausted, and no wonder neither your body nor your mind can switch off at night when they are meant to. This is a heavy burden.
How to relax
So how can we break the habit? You have to change your patterns during the day.
- Make sure you take that lunch break and don’t just check your emails through it.
- Read a book, go for a leisurely stroll – let your mind know it can chill, that this is your time.
- Be peaceful.
- Doze off for a few minutes if you have somewhere you can. Even a 15 minute rest will calm you and give you a burst of positive energy to continue with your day.
- Resolve to leave work behind you when you walk out of the door in the evening. If you simply can’t, then set fixed times at home to focus on it – and stick to those timings.
Get into a habit of setting these boundaries and your mind will find it easier to relax at bedtime. Your sleep problems will fade away...
If you are extremely stressed about issues in your life, then all of the above won’t fully cure the problem. It’s likely that your mind will still wake you up in the night, repeatedly drawing to your attention all the things it feels need dealing with. There is absolutely no point in trying to blank it out and get back to sleep again - it just turns the next few hours into a battle.
Keep a notebook next to the bed
One of the best immediate ways to give yourself a chance of falling back to sleep is to write down everything that is swirling round your head down on a piece of paper. I keep a pad right next to my bedside just for this. Whatever is in my head when I wake up in the early hours, I write it down. Consciously tell your mind that the information it's been trying to bring to your attention is now logged on your list. You can deal with it in the morning. You will find you can drop off quite easily once that's done - the mind no longer needs to remind you. Better still, make this list a regular pre-sleep habit, and you may not wake up at all. Try it - it really works.
Talk through your sleep struggles
That's a quick fix for the middle of the night but a strategic approach to the things that are bothering you is necessary too. Devote some calm thinking time to work out how you can resolve your issues. Talk to people, tell them what you are thinking and how you feel. Don’t shoulder your stresses alone. Delegate where you can and give up the: 'I do it better than anyone else' mindset. It’s so tempting to think that if you can’t hold it all together, your world will fall apart. But usually the opposite happens, and things come together instead. Ask for ideas from your friends, take professional advice from a talking therapist. Do what you need to do. Address the issues rather than hoping they will just go away.
Work on calming your mind, slowing it down and breaking its habit of 'racing'. Do a short meditation before you go to bed so that it becomes a habit to have a dedicated quiet time each evening. It will help you sleep quicker and more deeply.
My ten minute pre-sleep meditation
I place my hands, palms down, one above the other, on my stomach, and then do a series of 15 to 20 deep breaths, in and out through my nose, breathing in long and slowly (in for a count of four, out for a count of eight), focusing on how my belly expands as I breathe in, and relaxes as I exhale.
It's very simple, but after only a few minutes, most nights, I fall very easily off to sleep.
Above all, don't simply accept insomnia unhappily. It isn't simply an inevitable effect of getting older. Take the time to address your sleep problems, change your habits and realise quite how important regular sleep is to your overall health. It takes a bit of focus and determination, but it's really, really worth doing what you can to improve your sleep.
In next weeks blog I will share a few of the sleep aids that really made a difference to me. I really hope they do the same for you....