10 Self-care tips for a better night’s sleep

20200414_153622

“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.

  1. 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!).
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Check the light in your bedroom. You may want to wear an eye mask or fit blackout blinds.
  6. You may also want to invest in earplugs if your house or street is noisy or your partner snores or talks in their sleep.
  7. 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.
  8. Try using room sleep sprays such as essential oils or lavender on your pillow.
  9. Journaling before bedtime can help you leave worries and busy thoughts behind.
  10. 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.

jules@juleshaleycounselling.com

 

Image credit: @Paperwhale cards (JH photo stock)

Loving Kindness

20190728_152448

The concept of kindness only really entered my world when I was in my mid 30’s. It was almost an alien concept something that had eluded me for years and was outside of my lived experience. I once mentioned to my therapist that what she had done for me was very kind, and her reaction really shook something inside me. She said, “that’s a word you don’t usually use, was that difficult?”. She was spot on, but it hurt. I was not consciously kind to myself and perhaps only occasionally kind to others. Being kind was something that I vaguely knew how to ‘do’ but certainly not how I was. I was just doing and surviving life and kindness just wasn’t on my radar. I set about changing my relationship with kindness. I started to see people in a different light and stopping and actually seeing them was revolutionary.

Slowly I started to look at being kind to myself and this was a huge challenge.  I started to see myself as a human with all my faults and all my potential for change and growth. I often hear clients beating themselves up for not doing something in a certain way, for missing something or not being super productive. I often feel a touch of sadness when they do not feel that they deserve the same compassion and kindness that they offer to others. For some of us where kindness was absent perhaps due to abusive families, relationships or hardship, the good news is that we can play catch up. The start of my journey with kindness, and one that I’d like to share with you, was being introduced to the Loving Kindness meditation (Mett) at a yoga class.

This is something that takes patience and practice, but it will reward you well as it slowly seeps into your heart, mind and soul and can become a superpower for emotional well-being and transformation. The meditation starts with the heart intention of loving kindness and practicing this can deepen our experience and understanding of life, love and joy.

There are many different versions and you can change the wording until it feels just right for you. It may change or even transform how you feel about people in your life.

Find a quiet and comfortable space.  You may want to close your eyes or lower your gaze.

  1. Start by bringing your attention to yourself and repeat these words three times either in silence or aloud if you are in an empty space

May I be safe and protected, may I be peaceful and happy, may I live at ease and with kindness

  1. Next try to think of someone you love and repeat the words

May you be safe and protected, may you be peaceful and happy, may you live at ease and with kindness

  1. Finally expand the practice to include people we hardly know or who may have caused us issues in our lives, pain or hurt

May all beings be safe and protected, may all beings be peaceful and happy, may all beings live at ease and with kindness

Further reading on meditation:

  • Full Catastrophe living, Jon Kabat-Zin
  • Wherever you go, there you are, Mindfulness Meditations for Everyday Life, Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Mindfulness for Compassionate Living, Mindful ways to less stress and more kindness, Dr Patrizia Collard
  • Self-care for the real world. Nadia Narain and Katia Narain Phillips