Sleep and Self-Care


How did you get on with your fundamental human needs experiment from last weeks blog? Did you manage to fuel up, rest, enhance your environment? Let me guess the one that gives you the biggest challenge… sleep?

Almost all clients who come to me struggling with self-care, are not getting enough sleep. They set goals like improving their understanding, being more motivated, less tearful, more energy, less depressed… Tell me how do you feel when you get too little sleep? Tired, unmotivated, tearful, fed up? Don’t get me wrong I am not saying that depression is the same as tiredness. It’s not. But as we talked about last week, we cannot hope to work on mood or self reflection when something as fundamental as sleep is not occurring. And when we solve the problem of sleep, we often solve many other problems as well.

When we solve the problem of sleep, we often solve many other problems as well.

Tell me does this sound like you.. You wake up shattered, struggle to get up or get going, eventually getting motivated enough (or being late enough) to get moving, spend your day on the go, looking after others and rushing from place to place. Making plans to take the evening off and do nothing, but ending up doing housework, wasting time on social media, feeling like you need time to unwind so maybe watching some tv and then feeling so exhausted that you go to bed. And then what happens? BING your brain is awake. We have all seen the memes of that moment you lie down and your brain decides it is time to try to work out the meaning of life.

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Is this you? Do you then lie there checking the clock, counting down the hours until you need to get up, feeling that sicky feeling that you NEED TO GO TO SLEEP. So why do we do this? What is going on? Our brains need time to process our day. Ironically we do most of this when we are sleeping. This is one reason why babies need so much sleep. They have so much to learn and make sense of that they need to sleep more to process all of this new information. We need to sleep to make sense of our day. But we also do a lot of this processing and thinking during the day. However, in this modern day society we keep our brains busy all day. Think about it. Think about the last three days. When was the last time you did nothing? Like absolutely nothing. Take a minute to really think about this..

When was the last time you did nothing?

I bet the only time you did this was when you lay down to go to sleep. During the day we do not give ourselves a minute to rest and do nothing. Even when we get five minutes to sit down, we scroll through Facebook, or watch tv. We constantly give our brains more and more information. We do not allow it time to rest. We distract it from our thoughts. And as a result the first time it really gets to start making sense of anything is that moment we lie down to sleep.

Here’s another thing to consider. Imagine a toddler who is overtired. Imagine you are playing with them, giving them food, stimulating them with exciting and interesting things. And then you just suddenly pick them up, stick them in a cot and say go to sleep. What would happen? Most infants will cry, and struggle to settle. What about the toddler who feeds early, has some quiet time, a bath, reducing stimulation, a bottle or something comforting, a story and gets tucked in? This child will probably settle much better. Why? Decreasing stimulation, maintaining a routine where their little bodies begin to know it is time to wind down about an hour before bed, increasing relaxation strategies such as warm water and comfort. As adults why do we then think that we can just switch off? We treat ourselves like the first example, go.. go. Go. Okay now sleep! We are often found looking at our phones in bed, being stimulated right up until the moment we try to go to sleep. Why do we think that this is going to work?

So. What can we do to improve our sleep, and increase our energy, motivation, concentration and mood. Let’s take it right back to basics. We need time during the day to think, so that our poor brains don’t have to do this all at night time. I recommend mindfulness exercises to clients, even just for a few minutes during the day. Try YouTube, it is an amazing resource for guided mindfulness exercises. Or if you feel up to it just set aside some time in the day to do nothing. Maybe even just a few minute slots. Just notice what thoughts come up for you, and let them be. The goal is not to try to “stop thinking/worrying”, the goal is to notice your thoughts and worries without judging them or trying to change them. Guided mindfulness videos will teach you how to do this. Mindfulness is the practice of noticing what exists in the present moment, be that feelings, emotions, body sensations without trying to change them or get rid of them.

Mindfulness is the practice of noticing what exists in the present moment, be that feelings, emotions, body sensations without trying to change them or get rid of them.

Secondly, routine! As we know self-care is about noticing our needs and finding compassionate ways to meet them. If we knew our child was struggling with winding down at night time we wouldn’t shout at them and tell them to go to sleep now! (Well we might if we were stressed out but we wouldn’t want to). We would hopefully find ways to support them to wind down at night time, create a bedtime routine and teach them how to relax before bed. We need the same thing. We need some time before bed to unwind and some of us even need a routine to teach ourselves that it is bed time. This might include a shower or bath, putting on some cream, listening to something relaxing, reading something light, doing some yoga or mindfulness, or anything which allows our brains to shut down, rather than stimulating it.

So the goal for this week is to focus on sleep. Take it back to basics and notice the kind of thing you have been doing before bed. If it includes lots of brain stimulation, look at ways to reduce this and give yourself some space in the day to do some thinking and reflecting, this will help to reduce the likelihood of your brain firing up as soon as your head hits the pillow.

Good luck and take care of yourself!