Sleepy Self-care | Stresscase

I worked in the film and television industry full time for 30 years. My first job out of college required me to think with both sides of my brain and juggle a multitude of tasks. From creative scripts to huge technical wiring diagrams for studio control rooms, our three-person staff worked as a tight team to make hundreds of videos every year.

My boss was a woman. She became my first career mentor. She was generous with her time, obsessive about attention-to-detail, and our conversations about the work at hand were intense. As much as I loved the challenges she entrusted me with, the pressures of the job caught up with me. It didn’t take more than half a year before I was a stresscase.

As a way to cope with my overwhelm, I abandoned my social calendar in exchange for getting a good night’s sleep. Sleep became the most important thing. Without it, I would not be able to juggle all the responsibilities I had. Even worse, if I was tired, I risked making mistakes.

Sleep was impossible for me. Most nights it took me three to four hours to fall asleep. My brain was so busy. I was full of anxiety about my job. And when I did fall asleep, I would awaken at 2 am and begin flipping through my worries all over again. And (let us note), that this was before cell phones. Hello! That’s right, sleep problems existed long before the smart phone became a scapegoat.

The way I fell asleep during those times was by piling pillows on my face so that I would pass out from lack of oxygen. Later into my career, I discovered that drinking the whole bottle of wine worked pretty well. But now, if I drink more than a glass of wine, it wakes me up in the middle of the night.

Over the years, I have never completely mastered sleep. I’ve tried and succeeded for a blocks at a time with a wide scope of remedies: herbs, sleeping pills, exercise, baths, essential oils, meditation, body work, cutting out sugar and caffeine, these really cool “be-calm” balls, reading before bed…all of it. I imagine you have, too.

There are some particular herbs and essential oils that I now rely on for sleep support, but even they don’t work consistently.

So all of this, along with my recovery journey has caused me to reframe sleep trouble with sustainable self-care in mind.  Here's what I do now in my quest for a good night's sleep:

  • As consistently as possible, I aim to go to sleep at relatively the same time every night and wake at the same time every morning.
  • I make bed time a fun part of the day where I take 10 minutes to reward myself for all my efforts...tea or golden milk, with the cozy jammies, netflix or a book
  • I make sure I've had a meal or a snack that will sustain me through the night so I don’t wake up hungry in the middle of the night.
  • I do all the things, like brushing-flossing-moisturizing so I don’t wake up feeling regrets for not taking care of myself.
  • If I wake up before my full night’s sleep, I get up right away and go to the bathroom - (just in case that’s all I need!).
  • I crawl back into bed and give thanks for being safe and alive in my body.
  • I scan my body from toes to head, feeling the weight of my limbs, finding my heart beat, focussing on my breath pattern.
  • I review my list of things for which I am grateful.
  • If worries about problems or anything else arise, I release the need to think about them. INCLUDING thinking about the need to get back to sleep. I remind myself that trying to solve my problems with a partially-engaged brain is futile. 
  • Then, I play breathing games, 4-7-8 (inhale 4 seconds, hold for 7, exhale for 8) or box breathing (4 inhale, 4 hold, 4 exhale, 4 pause).
  • With breathing games, I pay attention to my body-especially my belly to make sure it is engaged in the breathing games. 

Somewhere along the way, I usually fall asleep with ease. On occasion, I can’t fall asleep for quite a while. When that happens, I remind myself to trust in my body to do what it needs and keep on with my practice.

I find doing these little things reduces my "sleep stress" and my waking stress more than solving the world’s problems at night ever did.

I hope what I have shared helps you in some way with your sleep challenges.  

If you are waking up multiple times throughout the night, if you find it impossible to sleep, or if you never feel rested after a night's sleep, your body could be trying to tell you that something needs attention. Trust your gut and make time to see your doctor.

xox  Self-Karen

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