Self-care for Sensitive Souls
Reconnect with your inner resources
The clocks go back this month … an extra hour in bed, yippee.
All very well if bed is a lovely-inviting-sleepy place.
But at least one in ten adults in this country suffer with chronic insomnia - and if you’re one of them, you don’t slip into delicious oblivion with a sweet sigh. If only!
When I ask my sleep-yearning clients what they do to help matters, I often see a gleam in their eyes. 'Don’t you dare,' they seem to be saying, 'give me any of those old chestnuts. I’ve heard them all.'
I sympathise. However, in the spirit of enquiry I’ve researched three of the most-quoted ‘how to get a good night’s sleep’ rules, to see how useful they really are.
And if they’re not, what’s a sleepless person to do?
Popular Tip 1: ‘Avoid caffeine, alcohol and big meals late at night’
Caffeine loves your stress hormones and takes several hours to tire of them (and longer as we get older), so having your last heart-rate-speeding coffee by early afternoon is sensible. (Besides, anything that wakes you up to answer a call of nature is not helpful.)
Alcohol is more complicated, because it depresses some body systems, stimulates others, then breaks down into horrible-headache-inducing toxins a bit later on, just when you might have hoped to be in dreamland. On the basis of quality of sleep over quantity, best to give it a miss.
Heavy meals are deceptively stupefying, but digestion produces heat in our bodies, which confuses things because our core temperature needs to drop slightly in order for us to sleep well.
Popular Tip 2: ‘If you can’t sleep, get up and do something else’
This advice is based on the idea of accepting the situation.
But what keeps us awake more than anything is the fear of not sleeping, so the key here is to show ourselves compassion, so we gently neutralise the fear and break the vicious circle.
And everyone will have their own version of how to do this.
For some people it’s a positive choice to get up, rather than lie there tossing and turning.
Insomniacs do all sorts of idiosyncratic things in the small hours, but reading something that engages you in an easy yet absorbing way will help you relax. As a bonus, you'll reclaim some pleasure from the unwanted wakefulness.
It’s probably not the time to get stuck into your latest self-help tome or a turgid sales report. (Even if your sales are brilliant, just don’t do work-related reading in the middle of the night. Your poor brain won't know what time of day it is.)
For other people, they know if they get up, they’ll be wide awake, with all hope of a normal day lost, so they opt for staying in bed.
If that's you, hunkering down under the duvet, you may find audiobooks a soothing way to drift off. There’s something very nurturing about being read to.
Choose carefully, though. Anything you find disturbing – be it violence, spooky stories, depressing themes – is best avoided, but other than that, it’s whatever gets you nodding off peacefully. (Jane Austen comes up consistently as a favourite.)
Another tactic that’s getting more and more popular, is to use powerful resources we all have within ourselves.
It’s been shown that you can change how you react to your sleeplessness, by connecting with your awareness through deep breathing or a spiritual practice such as prayer, mindfulness or meditation. Instead of trying harder and harder to rest, you bring yourself peace.
Verdict? A big grain of truth – you’ll find your own way
Popular Tip 3: ‘Oh and don’t worry, you’re probably getting all the sleep you need’
This is undoubtedly the most annoying piece of advice … because the only person who can truly judge how much sleep you need is you. If some high-flyer manages on two hours a night before planning another brilliant career move or whatever, well that’s weird genes for you (no offence) and we’re very pleased for her, aren’t we?
Verdict? Only for people who don’t have trouble sleeping
So here are my sleep tips. There are, you’ll be pleased to know, only two.
Become your own sleep expert
First gather your data. Notice what affects your sleep - what you eat and drink, how much light comes into your bedroom at night, your medication and what time you take it, your natural cycles, what has happened that day. When do you sleep best? What time of day is your personal no-chance zone?
Then, if you like theories, make a theory about why all this is (optional).
Lastly, piece together a set of habits and practices that work for you.
Hunt around for good tips
What works for someone else might just work for you. Even one tip from a kindred spirit could make all the difference.
If you find something on the internet that really works for you, it might feel good to thank the person who gave you that idea (in your heart or on their comments section).
When you’ve made a bit of a breakthrough, you could post a helpful tip of your own. Someone else may love you for it, and so it goes around.
As ever, gentle reader, if you suspect that there are underlying reasons for your sleep-stress, I’m here to help you unravel them and tuck you up (figuratively, you understand).
Just contact me or talk to me on 01242 578234, and we’ll set you on the gently drifting path to the land of nod.