“Sleep is the best meditation” The Dalai Lama
We know, and are often told, that sleep is so important for our wellbeing. Getting the right amount of sleep and rest can be restorative as it supports our nervous system and affects our mood. But for many of us it can be an ongoing, exhausting battle to achieve anywhere near the elusive eight hours that is the often-cited gold-standard recommendation. Everyone is different and some people not only survive but flourish with less sleep, while others are certainly not morning people and require more hours of Zzzs under the warm duvet.
Getting to sleep or staying asleep are common issues. The current uncertain times we are all living in due to the pandemic is affecting us all in many ways. Let’s face it, there are so many worries to keep us awake at the moment, which may sadly include the deaths of people we know and love, fears about catching the virus or those close to us – perhaps who are frontline workers catching it, concerns for friends and family staying safe, or implications on our finances and job security. Unresolved traumas may be being triggered, issues with drug and alcohol use may be more difficult in lockdown, relationship tensions could be increasing, while loneliness is a daily state for some, and the inability to plan and plans being postponed or cancelled makes us realise the fragile state of the world at the moment.
Our relationship with sleep changes throughout our lives; it is important to take time to check-in with yourself to see where your tiredness levels are and listen to that. Some people may be getting even more sleep and rest than ever before and be in a position where pre-pandemic responsibilities feel less pressing. You may have noticed that you have times of the day when you are most energised and times when you are zonked. This is down to your circadian rhythm or sleep/wake cycle. It works best when you keep a regular sleep routine.
I have battled with sleep issues and waking at 3am was a common occurrence for me many years ago lasting for weeks. I became so exhausted that a trip to the GP became necessary where I was talked through the basics of ‘sleep hygiene’. The one piece of important advice which had a real impact on my sleep, was not to stay in bed over-thinking my life but to get up and ‘do something’. This prescribed ‘something’ was unclear, but it sounded more appealing than just lying there. I learnt by trial and error that it is better to do an activity that is tiring but not particularly enjoyable as this may become something that the brain will register as desirable and it can become an established habit. I now have bread-making skills thanks to my sleepless nights. The house would smell wonderfully of freshly baked bread, my arms worked out all the tensions in my head while kneading and I felt energised but exhausted.
If you are feeling tired and are struggling with your pattern of sleep at the moment try to go gently, this will all pass, and perhaps if you lying awake struggling, try getting up. I’m hoping that some of the small steps below will support you to take back some control and have a better night’s rest and sleep well.
- Playing on your mobile/laptop/iPad for hours before bed can affect your sleep. Charging it outside of your bedroom means that you can keep the bedroom just for sleep (or something else more exciting!).
- If you feel you are going to bed too late and feel tired in the morning it may be helpful to rethink your bedtime – go to bed earlier!
- Leave a gap of several hours between your last meal and when you go to bed. You don’t want your sleep to be disturbed by a heavy stomach trying to digest your dinner. But the opposite is also true – try not to go to bed feeling hungry.
- Cutting back on alcohol before bed may prevent you from waking up dehydrated or having withdrawal affects in the middle of the night. Night-time herbal sleep teas can help before bed such as chamomile or Valerian.
- Check the light in your bedroom. You may want to wear an eye mask or fit blackout blinds.
- You may also want to invest in earplugs if your house or street is noisy or your partner snores or talks in their sleep.
- Let some air into your room during the day so it can breathe and check the temperature (17-18 degrees is the ideal sleep temperature), make sure it’s not too cold or too hot.
- Try using room sleep sprays such as essential oils or lavender on your pillow.
- Journaling before bedtime can help you leave worries and busy thoughts behind.
- Try some meditation, there are many apps now with calming meditations to help you drift off to sleep.
You can drop me an email, if you would like to explore any issues about worry, anxiety and sleep. If sleep is becoming a significant issue in your life such as you are having nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking, repetitive dreams or sleep paralysis it may be helpful to get some support and talk these through with a therapist.
Image credit: @Paperwhale cards (JH photo stock)