Ah sleep where for art thou?
Sleep is amazing isnt it? It’s wonderful. It does so many wonderful things and I feel sometimes that we take it for granted. I experience sleep in 3 different ways. As an individual, as a mother and as a counsellor. The way I experience sleep in each of these roles is actually quite different which until now I had not really thought about.
When I switched on my lap top tonight at 11pm, I was going to rant about something completely different, but started thinking about clients I had counselled and their struggle with sleep so I thought I would explore this a little here and share some of the things I use or have used to help me sleep.
Sleep is so important for good mental and physical health.There were classes held at university while I was doing my degree in Psychology on it and even workshops in the student union on sleep techniques, apparently spending most of the night in the pub then snoring through lectures is not healthy…who knew?
In my life before children I unquestionably took sleep for granted, despite loving it. I prided myself on being a night owl. My parents despaired at me for as long as I can remember about not sleeping and listening to music or late night radio talk shows until 2 or 3 am. Then, if I could, I would sleep most of the day. I had relaxation cd’s and read sleep books, but nothing helped…I am a night owl. When I met The Hoarder my mother told him that he was perfect for me…he managed a nightclub at the time and I used to sit in his office and write my university assignments, we went home around 4am and slept the next day. A match made in heaven.
I thought I could handle sleepless nights with new babies, after all I’m up all night anyway, right? Wow that was a crashing bump I came down with. No longer able to sleep when I want, lie-ins were a thing of the past, I was getting up at 7am after being up 3-4 times in the night to feed, change nappies or puked on bed-clothes, to cuddle over tired kids or to sit on their bedroom floor and watch in helpless horror as my eldest screams and thrash about in one of her night terrors! Despite this I still struggle to sleep and it is hard getting motivated on a morning with the girls. Especially after Smaller Beautiful was born as she is also a night owl and will only sleep in mummies bed on mummies chest, if she decides to sleep at all.
No sleep is like torture, I saw my personality change from young carefree, optimistic and energetic to reserved, weepy pessimistic and some days so low I just sat and stared out of the window longing to be free but not being able to make my brain move out of the fog it was in or my body to move towards anything but the sofa (and the biscuit tin)
As a mother I can see when my children are tired, they change into different people too. I hate it when people say to me..”oh she is tired” just because they may be crying. Crying does absolutely happen when my girls are tired (It’s usually me though!) but there is more, it’s a look in their eyes like a far away look, like they are sinking inwardly. Then they get the grumps “No!” Smaller Beautiful loves the words no and not at the moment, so its harder to tell when she has the grumps, usually I spot her too late and she has a full-blown tantrum, hitting or going so rigid in my arms I worry I am going to drop her! Big princess on the other hand is calmer and so if she starts with that look and the grumps then tears are sure to follow and so is bed or a sleeping beauty nap.
As a counsellor I am slightly obsessed with sleep. As humans, when we worry, have things on our mind or unwell…sleep is the first thing that is effected. I see that same look in some clients eyes, the far away look…the brain fog, that comes with lack of restful sleep.
There are two types of bad sleep in my mind. Sleeping too much and sleeping too little. Often they also go hand in hand. If you sleep too much at some point you are going to be sleeping too little because you’re not feeling tired, this also affects the body clock and feeling sleepy at night…you don’t.
Too little sleep will eventually lead to HAVING to sleep and sleeping too long as your body recoups. This will also mess up your sleeping patterns as sleeping too long means you are not tired at bed time since you got up at lunch time so you start on the vicious cycle of sleeping too little again.
Sleep is so important for our mood. Anxiety and low mood, depression and stress can be made so much worse through lack of sleep. Everything feels hopeless and you feel alone …there is no one to talk to at 3am.
How do you switch it all off at bedtime? The thoughts that you don’t want anyway, are now keeping you awake, the things you have avoided during the day are now dancing around your head …there are no distractions, its dark and its quite…just the loudness of our own thoughts in the night time!
I talk about mindful meditation with folk who will listen. Often they look at me like I’m nuts and I can see their point! Allowing yourself to not be asleep, allowing yourself to focus on each part of your body and allowing it to sleep or not sleep, accepting that a negative thought has popped into your head and then letting it drift away without following it on the merry path it wants to take you down. Sometimes I imagine I am laying near a stream and I put the thought in the water and watch it float away (you can see why they think I’m nuts)
Other times I read until I can no longer see the words on the page
A warm bath before bed and a warm drink
Essential oils in a burner before bed or as drops on the pillow. Ylang Ylang is quite a good one for bed time.
Try to keep a paper and pen next to your bed to write down the things that pop into your head. You can’t do anything about the shopping, appointments, finances etc right now so wright it down and deal with it in the morning when you can do something about them.
Sometimes I even imagine the morning alarm going off and forcing myself to get out of a warm cosy bed to go to work…usually works lovely.
or I return to an old faithful. The radio.
What I don’t do is reach for a drink..Alcohol is sometimes thought of as a good way to get to sleep. Actually this is crap. You don’t reach the wonderful restful R.E.M (not the band!) stage of sleep either at all or if you do it’s not for very long. This is the really deep deep stage of sleep that your body needs to get through the next day. Whilst all sleep is good, it’s this that is essential to remain fully functioning. So no more booze at bed time to help you sleep.
I don’t put the TV on. The shiny flashing images and noise just wakes your brain up more and aids in keeping you awake longer…switch it off.
Don’t force yourself to stay in bed if you really don’t feel tired. Let yourself get up, get a drink, wander around the house or sit in your children’s bedroom and watch them sleep, fill your head with wonderful memories of sleeping babies and take those thoughts back to your bed with you.
Finally, don’t give yourself a hard time. The more you verbally attack yourself for not sleeping the less likely you will sleep, worrying about not being able to sleep on a night is the same thing. Acknowledge you have had a bad night, then go to bed.
These things wont work for everyone, I’m simply sharing the ones I have tried. I may up date this later with a bit more psychology of sleep, but it’s currently half 12 and I am a little sleepy.
Goodnight, sleep tight & if you dont… Be gentle on yourself x
What have you tried? Are you a night owl or an early bird?