Still seeking that illusive "good night's sleep"
I’ve written about sleep before, and I’ll probably write about sleep again because a good night’s sleep is still illusive to me. I capture it for a few days, a week or maybe two if I’m lucky, and then poof it’s gone.
Thanks to an investment in functional medicine, I am at least more aware of the factors that increase and decrease my sleep, which has been comforting. Sadly, it isn’t the magic bullet I wish it was, but as GI Joe used to say, “Knowing is half the battle.”
So, what is keeping me up at night? I’m so glad you asked! We’re all unique, and of course your sleep challenges will be different from mine, but I feel confident there will be some overlap, so I’ll take moment to share my top three sleep inhibitors:
Stress – Stress about work. Stress about getting everything done. Stress about doing too much. Stress about the news. Stress about how stress is affecting my sleep. Alcohol – Thought I used to drink with the best of them, I just can’t handle liquor anymore. Even just one drink before bed can be disruptive. Not to mention the hangover in the morning. Blue lights/screens - Games on my phone, working on my laptop and watching tv at night all fire up my brain. These three things sometimes feed off each other. For instance, when I have a long stressful day, it’s tempting to pour myself a scotch before bed, and as long as I’m up, I might as well watch a little tv or play on my phone. If I have few drinks and don’t sleep well, I get more stressed and I don’t focus as well, so I spend more time on my screen trying to get everything done, and you know what tastes oh so good after I finally accomplish everything? A glass of scotch.
As I have busied myself trying to untangle that ball of wax, I have identified several factors that improve my sleep. Admittedly, I don’t always make the time to do them.
Walking/running – This burns off some of the noisy stress energy that compounds the stress that is connected to real life events. I imagine yoga would help too if I could just get myself to roll out the mat a couple of times a week.
Abstaining from alcohol during high-stress times - While I don’t identify as having a drinking problem, I know I have trouble sticking to one drink or even two when I’m looking for a way to self-medicate. I’ve found just deciding to abstain for a set amount of time eliminates that internal negotiating about how much I can drink and when. For instance, I’m currently on a break until my birthday next month.
Taking the bus – I’m fortunate to live on a bus route that offers service to town every 30 minutes. Riding the bus means taking a short walk to and from the bus stop, and it gives me 12 to 14 precious minutes to just get lost in my thoughts.
Knowing all this doesn’t guarantee a restful night's sleep, but it’s a guidebook I can keep on hand. As I keep a close eye the factors that affect my sleep, I’m also starting to recognize that the amount of sleep I need varies based what is going on in my life. In accepting that, I don’t beat myself up over and extra half hour in the morning or snuggling into bed at 8:30pm when I’m a little run down. There are times when I just need a little more rest. I don’t share my challenges and successes for you to copy or adopt as your own. I’m just hoping I inspire you to listen to your body and find out what is working and not working for you. Everyone has different lifestyles and schedules. Napping might be great for you or not. If you are naturally more energetic in the morning, get up early. If nights are your only time for peace and quiet, flap your night owl wings. I think there is a little bit of a culture shift happening, but sleep and rest still continue to be associated with laziness. I am among the people who associate it with a healthy lifestyle and being a productive adult. There are functions our body can only perform when we are in a restful sleep.
If you need a little convincing, I recommend you check out Why we Sleep by Matthew Walker. He talks about all the reasons people need to prioritize sleep, and he argues that sleeping is like breathing. You can’t hold your breath Monday through Friday and then take extra breaths on Saturday and Sunday. That’s not how it works. You need sleep consistently every night.
Whatever your sleep challenges and needs are, I encourage you to listen to your body, and I wish you well on your quest to catch some Zs.