Sleep is designed to be restorative. It is a time when our body is in a relaxed state, when our cells re-build and our experiences are integrated into our memories. Our sleep is shaped by the circadian rhythm, and regular sleep can help us to feel more organized and grounded.
We may not understand the complexities of sleep in entirety, but I know personally, that when I don't get enough sleep I can be easily irritated. Grouchy, even. And I know, I'm not alone.
According to the Sleep Health Foundation, nearly 1 out of 3 people in the US struggle with at least mild insomnia. That's alot of potentially grouchy people! But more than mood disturbance, a lack of sleep is significantly correlated with behavior issues in children, and can leave kids and adults at a greater risk for illness, weight gain, diabetes, infertility and heart disease. It can also put you--and others--at risk for accidents! Sleep is super important! Why can it be so elusive?
Perhaps it's because as a society, we're so busy. Maybe some of us sacrifice our sleep in order to get things done. Surely, our children hinder our lovely nights of sleep--waking us up with "I had a bad dream" or "My bed is wet". Sometimes Anxiety can keep us from sleeping, our minds won't stop ruminating over things we have to do, or other things that we may be worrying about. Sometimes we might have persistent nightmares that wake us up. Other times, it's simply that our bodies have gotten off schedule, and it can be really hard to get back in sync.
How to Protect Your Sleep
If you have very young children, stop reading this post and take a nap or do a relaxing meditation instead! The truth is that the following techniques will not likely help you to get a complete night's sleep if you have an infant, or maybe even a toddler. They may help you to fall asleep, but it may simply be time that will bring your full night's sleep back. For everyone else, these strategies can really help!
First, rule out a medical issue. It's always a good idea to check in with a medical provider to ensure that insomnia is not related to a larger health issue.
Limit caffeine and alcohol. I know, this is a hard one for many people! But caffeine can affect your metabolism and your inner rhythm. As a stimulant, it can make it hard to fall asleep or even have restful sleep. And though alcohol may help you fall asleep, it often makes it difficult to sleep through the night. It also prevents your body from experiencing REM sleep, which is really important to our health.
Follow a consistent schedule, going to sleep and waking around the same time every day, as possible.
Get outside in the morning. Sunlight helps activate our natural circadian rhythm.
Do not take naps. No matter what. If you take a nap when you have insomnia in the night time, it will only make it harder to sleep again the next night.
Follow a bedtime routine. Our bodies like routine, and our brain responds well to rhythm. Following a routine can help your body and mind to (re) learn the rhythm and allow you to fall asleep more easily.
Refrain from computer screens, or even exciting tv shows/movies before bed. Do not watch tv in your bed!
Listen to soothing music during your bedtime routine.
Use Aromatherapy to help relax you.
Make sure your room is quiet and comfortable (not too hot/cold).
Journal your worries away. If there are things you tend to worry about, make time BEFORE your bedtime routine to journal about them. Give yourself permission to think about them during this time. Set a timer, and when time's up, close the book. If you find yourself worrying about them at bedtime, remind yourself that it's not the time, that you've already closed the book, and that your worries will still be there in the morning.
DO NOT FIGHT SLEEP. If you are feeling tired say at 9, and push through until 10, it is likely that you will have difficulty falling asleep. Listen to your body. Go to bed when it's ready.
Make it a practice to wish positive things for others while trying to fall asleep.
If you do not fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed. Go for a walk around your home. Read a magazine--nothing too exciting.
If you are awoken by a nightmare, comfort yourself just as you would a child. Remind yourself that you are safe, that dreams are just thoughts, and thoughts can't hurt you. If the dream reminds you of something stressful from your past or present, remind yourself that you journaled, closed the book, and can think of these kinds of things when you wake up in the morning. Re-engage in a relaxing meditation, or again think positive things for others while trying to fall asleep.
Try not to stress about (not) sleeping! For those of us who experience insomnia, this can be a big one! Check out my blog post Stressfree Sleep for more information.
Living with insomnia can be an extremely uncomfortable and impactful experience. The concrete strategies I've outlined above can really help. But sometimes, they may not be enough. Creating Space Counseling and Wellness can support you to restore your sleep, so that it can once again be a positive, healthy and peaceful experience. Call today for a sleep consultation.