Many of my clients come to me and say they are having difficulty sleeping. Either, they are having trouble falling asleep, or they wake up around 3 a.m. and cannot go back to sleep.
Sleeping is one of those pressure and underrated things that people loosely use to explain away their every day problems.
"I'm exhausted, I didn't sleep well."
"My child had a fever, and we were both up all night."
"Once I have some coffee I'll wake up."
Do any of these sound familiar? Sleep deprivation is a national epidemic, the NHTSA says it's responsible for 72,000 crashes on the road every year, it's responsible for poor testing scores in children, and it's responsible for a lot of the mood disorders people experience, and it's been attributed to some physiological disease processes as well.
Sleep is the time when our body repairs itself.
To tackle the topic of sleep we have to begin with a nighttime routine. What you are doing BEFORE you try to go to sleep is just as important as what you do during the witching hour when you awake and can't fall back to sleep.
Back in the day, and I mean way back in the day humans began to wind down naturally, just as animals (who don't fall into the nocturnal category) do. The sun began to set, slowly the world became darker, the world also became quieter.
Even when humans started to use candle light, it was a low level light, just enough for a few minutes of reading or writing, or to finish up dinner.
With our man made faux light, we now have the ability to make night as bright as day. Just take a walk inside Costco during the winter, after sunset. And with our technology we have introduced a whole new hue, blue light. Blue light pours from cell phones which we hold inches from our eyes as we lay in bed, or televisions that we watch until we fall asleep.
So what we cue our brain BEFORE we lay down is just as important as what we do when we sleep. There are a few very simple things you can do to start creating a more restful environment before you sleep.
1. Dimmer Switches - in areas where you spend time in the evening, such as the living room and bedroom, install dimmer switches, use them on the lowest possible level once the sun begins to set. If you do not have the ability to install dimmer switches, get small lamps, and purchase vintage light bulbs. They meet modern efficiency standards, but give off a very dim yellow light.
2. Attempt to set a bed time routine. Agree on a time (with yourself) that you will separate from your phone (I recommend leaving it in another room) and/or shut off the television. During this time, take a hot bath or shower, drink a cup of tea, night time stretching can be great for the mind and muscles, or consider reading a book.
3. Avoid having a television in your room. Allow your bedroom to be a safe place for your mind to relax without over-stimulation.
Nothing cures insomnia like the realization it's time to get up. - Presumably Anne Frank
Alright, now that we've set the stage for some restful sleep, let's talk about what to do when you wake up in the middle of the night. Clients often report that they wake up and their mind is spinning, thoughts on what they need to do during the day, replaying events from the day before, etc.
Unfortunately this sort of environment in the mind becomes a battle between an exhausted, and not fully awake mind, with cognitive efforts to convince yourself to fall asleep.
"I need to get to sleep, I have a big meeting in the morning."
"If I don't fall asleep now, I won't get to work on time."
So here's some strategies to calm the mind enough to allow you to doze back to dream land.
1. Without turning on any lights, roll to your right side (consult a physician if you are pregnant or have known heart issues). When we roll to our right side (our heart side) we relieve pressure, which allows our blood pressure to reach homeostasis.
2. Without opening your eyes, lift your eyebrows, some would also say gaze up to the spot in between your eyes (known as your third eye). This action will naturally allow any tension you are holding in your face to calm. Also, notice if you are holding your jaw tight during this time, relax it. Conversely you can tighten all the muscles in your face and then relax them.
3. Create a mantra you will use such as "this thought is not welcome now, I invite it back in the morning." Now, while laying on your right side, with your face relaxed, take a deep breath in through the nose, letting your belly expand, and hold it slightly, then release it back through your nose.
This is where the mind loves to take off. Insert your mantra here.
If you struggle to let go of thought because you are afraid you will need it tomorrow, keep a note pad and pen by the bed and jot it down, but make sure that you follow all of the above, low lights, and once you are ready to reset, lights out.
Nothing that has come to you during the precious time of sleep is more important that this, getting your rest so you can be as effective as possible during your day.
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