What to do when you can't sleepDec 31, 2020
Everyone else is asleep. I should be asleep.
But I’m not.
I’m. Wide. Awake. And soooooo tired!!!
This week I found myself wide awake at 2:15am and unable to drop back off. The Sandman just did not want to visit me. These are the things I did instead of sleeping.
I read four chapters of my book.
I read a lot of philosophical and factual content and during Christmas and New Year, I wanted to read some fiction, with my only criteria being that it had to be a book I couldn’t put down. I found that book - it’s really good, but the problem is, I can’t put it down. Being a crime thriller, it’s not really conducive to restful sleep and probably not what I should have been doing for two hours in the middle of the night.
Then I picked up a couple of messages I hadn’t seen, one of them work-related which took me to my website and I found a couple of pages that need amending. I hate it when my published information is out of date.
Yay, brand new tasks on my To-Do list that I can worry over at 3:45am.
Then I looked at social media. Pfft. There are so many interesting things on there!! There’s such a grey area between my business and personal life, my cruise through my newsfeed only served to stimulate and wake my mind even more.
I needed to move my body; go for a walk around the house, maybe even take a cup of tea to the garden for some midnight air. I have been known to do this many times, even taking my yoga mat outside and busting some moves in the dark.
But I didn’t go for a House or a Garden Walk.
I noticed at 4:18am that the moon was 99.9976% full (according to the app that I use - my visual estimation of the moon’s fullness is not that accurate).
And there was the ah-hah moment!
I often share my moon rituals and practices with yoga classes and workshops, and I know that I always struggle to sleep with the energy of the Full Moon. If you’re interested, you might want to check out the work of Kirsty Gallagher, her great book, "Lunar Living” and maybe even her recent interview with Fearne Cotton on Instagram.
My mind was well and truly alert and awake by this point and I thought, I’m probably not the only one who struggles to sleep sometimes. So, how can I help you when you can’t sleep?
How can I help myself when I can’t sleep?
It worked for Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music so let’s start there, with the foundations of your sleep time.
YOUR BEDROOM AS A SACRED SPACE
Your bedroom should be clear, clean and clutter-free.
This is the place that you rest your body for between 7 and 9 hours every night, do you really want piles of laundry, book, laptops and crap everywhere? Your sleeping space is a sacred space. Read this blog (and this one) on why creating a sacred space for your yoga is important, and these things can be applied to your bedroom.
If you’re thinking about up-styling your bedroom, you’d not go wrong to check out Jen Stanbrook’s blog post “Bedroom revamp tips for the best night’s sleep”.
This interior design goddess really knows her stuff and I’m glad to know her because she’s a bloody lovely lady, as well. She has loads of design ideas for you, simply type ‘bedroom’ into the search bar and you’ll have a plethora of inspiration before your eyes.
And if your wardrobe spills piles of clothes and laundry out onto the floor and you need help organising and decluttering, head over to my good friend, Helen Keightley, aka The Wardrobe Fairy.
Your bed should be clean
One of my most favourite night’s sleep is Fresh Bedding Day - oh man, there’s nothing finer!! I strip and wash all my bed linen every week, without fail. Always have.
A LOT OF STUFF GOES ON BETWEEN THE SHEETS, YOU KNOW.
Hey saucy, not that!
That’s for an entirely separate series of blog posts 😉
We shed millions of skin cells. We sweat. We have bodily fluids. There are dust mites. The list goes on and quite frankly, I don’t want to think about it. I’d just much rather have a clean bed, thank you very much.
Make sure your bed sheets are fresh and clean and ready to hold you comfortably in your repose.
Store your devices properly
I am in no way an expert, but there has been a lot of research into the detrimental effect that smartphones can have on our sleep patterns and our health so minimise it’s effect by keeping your device away from your bed, in a drawer or, even better outside of the room.
Obvs, if you’re charging your device overnight and it’s in a cupboard or a drawer make sure it isn’t causing a fire hazard. (I mean, I want you to be warm and cosy in bed but not that warm!)
Some folks, myself included, use the alarm clock function on their smartphone for waking them in the morning. Here’s a handy tip; keep the phone somewhere other than at the side of the bed. That way, you won’t be tempted to mindlessly scroll your way to slumber and when your alarm goes off in the morning, you have to get yourself out of bed to turn it off, rather than be tempted to hit the snooze button.
CREATE A BEDTIME ROUTINE
When my sons were very young, sleep routines were key. Set bedtimes, bath, pyjamas, a glass of warm milk, a story, and affirmations of love and affection. I revisited and reinforced these routines every time I noticed behaviour slipping, whenever they were at a key developmental or growth spurt stage, or when there was a big change happening in their environment.
It still works now and they are 15 and 11.
It even works for me at the age of 44.
Decide how many hours of sleep you need - be honest - and stick to it every day.
Get to bed!
It’s very unlikely that your wake-up times can be fluid and variable because most of us have to go to work, so why should your bedtime fluctuate? Staying up an extra hour or two is stealing from your body’s valuable rest time.
And we all know that the third of the Yamas, Asteya, invites us to be non-stealing.
Research suggests that it is far better to keep the same sleep and waking times, rather than binge-sleeping at the weekend to catch up. It suggests that adults should sleep for between 7 and 9 hours, in cycles of 90-mins, each including “four distinct stages” of sleep. Check out Healthline for their really handy sleep calculator to give you an idea of when you should be hitting the hay for optimum rest.
Circadian rhythms are very important to our growth and repair at a cellular level, as well as being key to the healthy function of so many other body systems including digestion, fertility and menstrual health, the immune system, and our ability to manage stressful or challenging situations.
I know that you know how much harder things are to deal with when you haven’t had a good night’s sleep.
Be mindful of what you ingest
In the hours before sleeping, I would invite you to be considerate about what you bring into your body.
Certainly, it’s not a good idea to eat straight before going to bed for the same reason I advise to not practice yoga within an hour of eating. For the relaxation and restful element, how can we expect our body to rest if we’re asking our gut to process and metabolise our last meal? (From the physical asana perspective, the movement of our core muscles around the abdomen whilst digesting can cause feelings of nausea, bloating, and discomfort. And who wants that, right?)
There needs to be mention of caffeine and alcohol. Many people enjoy a glass of wine to chill out and relax, but let's not forget that both are technically toxins that your body has to metabolise.
They also both have a diuretic effect meaning they promote the production of urine, causing the body to lose fluid. We human beans (deliberate typo, I love Roald Dahl) consist of roughly 60 - 70% water. When we sleep, we lose water through the vapours of our exhalation and through sweating, which is the bodies natural way of regulating core temperature (if you’re a peri- or menopausal women, I feel ya and I know that you know what I’m talking about in bucket loads). If your body is dehydrated the teeny tiny cells of your body start to cry. Give them regular top-ups of water throughout the day.
Herbal tea in the evening can be a calming routine to get into and a good idea is to take a glass of water to bed with you and when you wake up, (after turning off the alarm clock on the other side of the room), chug down that h2o as though your life depends on it. It does 🤷🏼♀️
Be also mindful about what content you are absorbing.
Do you spend your hours before sleeping listening to thrash heavy metal music, watching horror films, comparing your life to the highlights of others scrolling through social media?
Or do you undertake peaceful activities like reading, meditation, playing or listening to music, yoga, or crocheting? You can check out my short Pyjama Yoga sequence to prepare your body for sleeping - subscribe to my channel for free practices and I have loads more classes like this within my virtual studio as well as meditations and guided relaxations.
Each of us has a monkey mind - easily distracted, excited, or agitated by thoughts. The activities we choose before resting can make a big difference. Would you rather your monkey screeching, jumping up and down, and banging her fists on the ground or would you rather settle her down with a banana, a warm glass of milk, and loving words? (Incidentally, banana is an excellent food for helping you sleep. I wouldn’t imagine monkeys like to drink warm milk, though.)
BE KIND TO YOURSELF - DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP
Put the thoughts somewhere else
I definitely have a monkey mind that springs to life when I can’t sleep, either thinking about what I have to do, things I have done or things I should have done. Sometimes, I just have too many thoughts whirring around and I find it helpful to Brain Dump. I’m not telling myself my thoughts don’t matter, I'm telling myself I don’t need to think about them right now.
I get my journal and list the things that I’d like to think about tomorrow. I’m almost humouring my inner critic in just the same way you would when a toddler is talking gobbledygook about Postman Pat. I don’t need a list of things to think about, I do just fine on my own without a list, but the action of taking the thoughts and putting them somewhere else is helpful to me.
Counting down the hours
There’s nothing worse than counting down to the time your alarm is set and counting how many hours of sleep you aren’t going to have. I've been there so many times. Maybe it’s all my years practicing yoga and being quite into the philosophical aspect, but I have gained great lessons from the Yamas, Ahmisa, and Aparigraha, and the Niyama, Santosha. These tenets tell us about kindness, non-grasping, and contentment. Allow me to elaborate.
One time, I was laying awake frustrated, angry, almost crying that I was so tired and couldn’t sleep and my inner voice started to speak to me. It said,
So, I consciously put myself into a savasana and made myself physically comfortable, making adjustments as I needed them. Then I started to make enquiries of myself; how do my feet feel? And my legs? How do my arms feel? Oh, my hands are relaxed and I notice that my fingers feel quite relaxed.
It was enough. And it was a game-changer.
I’m not going to tell you that this sends me back to sleep straight away, sometimes it doesn’t at all, but the very act of accepting how things are in the moment rather than fighting them with frustration can bring about a sense of calm and peace and where deep sleep evades, I know that my body can still take some form of rest.
TIPS TO HELP IF YOU CAN’T SLEEP
All these things I’ve mentioned are excellent considerations before your evening even starts.
If you happen to be reading this on your smartphone at shit o’clock in the night and you want to go to sleep, put your device away as soon as you’re able because I’d like you to try these things that might be of practical help right now.
if you have too many thoughts, write a bullet-point list with minimal words - maybe just a word or two to jog your memory tomorrow
use your inner voice to offer yourself words of love or affection (if to-do lists or the inner bitch start creeping in, put those to one side for now)
put yourself into a savasana (laying flat, with the legs outstretched or with the knees bent and resting in on one another. The arms can be beside your body or resting on your belly). Notice where in your body that feels comfortable
consciously notice your breath and the way that it comes into your body (when thoughts come in, bring your attention back to how your breath feels)
let go of the desire to fall asleep and allow the body to just be
count each round of breath. You may lose count, and that’s ok, perhaps just start from the beginning again.
I hope that helps and I will l leave you with the words that my dear Nan used as she turned out the light when my sister and I stayed with her and Granddad
and I wish you a restful night tonight, whether sleep comes or not.
NB - I wrote this entire blog post from my iPhone, from my bed, complete with references to helpful articles and formatting. I wrote from 4:20am to 7:30am with a short break to record my weekly live meditation on Facebook.
I was so happy to have used my time and lack of sleep experience to have produced a really valuable piece of content that I was proud of because I was sure it would be helpful to lots of people. When I came to upload it to my website, the Whole. Thing. Had. Disappeared.
Two helpful techie wizards later, and the document was still nowhere to be seen. I’m not gonna lie, I cried tears over it and I would have even if I had have had more than two and a half hours sleep.
Therein lies two valuable life lessons;
keep your sacred sleeping place as a sacred sleeping place, it’s not your place work (unless it is your place of work, there’s no judgement here, gorgeous)
when writing two thousand words, it’s useful to remember to save your documents
everything is temporary, nothing is permanent. Let it go, Lee-ann
So, what you have just read is a reproduction of my work, so lovingly prepared. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. The struggle is real, peeps - I want you to know that my words always come from the heart.
Save your work, folks!