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.

reflect on life.jpg

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!


Back to basics, environment and physical needs

So in summary of last week, self-care is about recognising our own needs and actively engaging in behaviours to try and meet those needs. Hopefully after last week you managed to have a think about your own needs. Sometimes this can come to us really quickly and other times it can be more challenging. For example today I can recognise that I feel tired. So my need might be for rest, or sleep. I also might be bored and feeling tired, so my need might be for fun. Or I might be tired from repeating the same kind of behaviours, so maybe my need is for change or time to reflect, for example journaling. Understanding our needs is a difficult thing to do and it takes time, practice and patience!

What makes understanding our needs even more difficult is when our basic needs are going unmet. These include our need for safety and security, food, water, sleep etc. Think about it, when you’re hungry what use are you to anyone? Or how do you feel after a couple of nights of no sleep? We are pretty useless right? These fundamental human needs are common to us all, and they are a priority. If you are not sleeping, or you do not feel safe, there is no point in trying to journal to address our emotional needs, or do mindfulness for psychological needs for example. Basic human needs always come first.

Always address your basic human needs first.

So what do we mean by this? Think about someone you love or care for. A family member, a child, a pet, a friend. If you were responsible for them, would you allow them to go a few days without good food? Without water? Without safety? No. We prioritise these needs for others, but we are not so good at doing this for ourselves. I recently had a long conversation with a client about food. She described how she doesn’t need to eat healthy as she doesn’t gain weight. This led to a long conversation about how food is not about body image, but rather about fuel for our bodies. Our bodies need fuel to function. Healthy food gives us energy, improves concentration, releases good endorphins. Food makes us feel strong and motivated. Or it can make us tired, lethargic, exhausted and fed up. It depends what we put into our bodies. Trying to function well without good food, water or sleep is like trying to drive with no petrol.

Trying to function well without good food, water or sleep is like trying to drive with no petrol.

It can be the same with out environment. If your environment feels unsafe or stressful, it is going to be extremely hard to focus on any other form of self-care. We need a healthy, safe, clean environment in order to be able to function well.

So the homework for this week is to start with your basic needs. Does your environment feel safe? Does it feel clean and comfortable? Have you had some healthy body fuel (food) today? Have you given your body some water? Have you had enough sleep? And if not, is there ways to address these things first? If you feel stuck think about how you would care for a loved one, or a child. What would their basic needs be, how would you meet them, and how can you apply this to yourself. Try this out for a few days and see how you get on. It seems so basic, but it regularly amazes me how much we neglect our bodies physically, and then wonder why we don’t feel good. Let’s start with the basics.

Good luck and take care,