“If I can fall asleep now, I’ll get at least 5 good hours of sleep.”
“Ugh, how is it 3 am already?!”
If either of those thoughts sound familiar, chances are you’ve had trouble sleeping at some point in your life. I sure have and still do at times, especially when I’m feeling stressed.
I’ve struggled with getting consistent, quality sleep for the past few years after a car accident caused neck and shoulder injuries. For a while, it had me tossing and turning at night, trying to get comfortable and find a pain-free position. Thankfully, the pain has decreased considerably after physical therapy, but the not-so-great routine of broken sleep has been tough to fix. On my quest for better sleep, I’ve learned a good bit about myself and hope that my discoveries can be helpful for you if you’re tired of being tired too.
To help me tackle the challenge, my dad (formerly an Ayurvedic physician) asked about my environmental factors– was my room or blanket too hot or cold? Was my pillow comfortable? Was I being mindful about my eating habits and not eating heavy dinners or drinking too many liquids, especially caffeine, near bedtime? Once that was sorted he suggested exercise, even low impact movement, to see if it would help me sleep better. The theory made sense: wear yourself out so you pass out. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me and my frustrating sleep cycle continued.
After some reflection, I finally had an “aha” moment. Little sleep at night meant a late, groggy start each morning. This led to being fatigued all day, which made me force myself through it in order to function through the day. As a result, this turned into trouble sleeping because I had forced my way past fatigue for so long. I also realized that because of the compounding tiredness, my stress and pain levels increased, making me easily irritable. So Dr. Dad prescribed a new routine– no matter how tired I was, I had to wake up and be out and about, because not only would natural sunlight and movement help cue my body to daytime versus nighttime, but I’d also ideally start to fix my routine with the early starts.
Through trial and error, I’ve come to believe that ongoing sleep struggles have one fundamental root: stress. The stressor can be big or small, but the more something stays on your mind, the more it can wreak havoc in other areas of your life such as sleep. During stressful times, it can feel counterintuitive to schedule relaxation time for yourself when you barely have enough time to do other things and take care of other people. But you deserve “you time” each day, because it’s important that you take care of yourself and avoid burning out. The next time stress starts cutting into quality Z’s, try some of these ideas: deep breathing, aromatherapy, meditation, going for a walk, having a relaxing bath, or doing some light stretching.
In trying to figure out why I wasn’t sleeping well, I learned to recognize when my thoughts and feelings started to get in the way of my sleep. Once I did that, I was better able to take action and try various strategies to help combat those situations. Take a look– do any of them sound familiar?
Scenario 1: I have to remember to pick up the dry cleaning tomorrow. We’re also out of tomatoes so I’ll have to go to the grocery store at some point. Oh no, I forgot I was supposed to return a call today. I hope I’ll remember when I wake up tomorrow…..
We’re all guilty of thinking about a million things as soon as your head hits the pillow, rather than letting our minds rest. In the middle of this, you might remember something super important and end up not being able to sleep because you’re afraid you’ll forget it by the morning. To overcome this, I started keeping a notepad next to my bed so I could make a nice to-do list and jot down anything that came to my mind without worrying about forgetting it the next day.
Scenario 2: Important meeting tomorrow! Better try to sleep early. [2 hours later while you’re staring at the ceiling] No big deal, I can still get 6 good hours. [2 more hours pass] Okay, at least 4 good ones.
The problem here was that I was so focused on getting sleep that it essentially became a source of pressure and stress. To try and move away from that, I shifted my focus to relaxation, instead of being fixated on sleep. This helped me to stop checking the clock, which was only adding to my stress. I also took my dad’s advice about establishing a routine for good sleep hygiene by setting a specific bedtime and wake time (even on off days). Am I always great at this? No. But I’m more focused on progress, not perfection, and am proud to be getting better each day.
Scenario 3: What’s the point of trying to sleep? It’s not going to happen. I might as well just stay up the whole night and be productive.
After you’ve tried almost everything you can think of and you still aren’t sleeping well (or at all), it’s tempting to give into another sleepless night. I know, because I’ve been there. But instead of condemning myself to a lifetime of terrible sleep, I started acknowledging my bad sleep routine and reframing my self-defeating thoughts. I decided to be more realistic and honest with myself by admitting that there were nights I slept better than others. However, it wasn’t fair to doom myself to bad sleep every night before even trying to make it better.
While a lot of these tips are easier said than done, I’d love for you to give some of them a try if you’re tired of struggling with sleep. It hasn’t been easy but with some patience and persistence, I’ve gradually been able to get more rest so I know you can do it too.
Good dreams and sweet night!