About last night….. I couldn’t sleep again, another one of those nights. I have no problem going to sleep but then wake at the bewitching hour of anything between 2 and 4am. My brain seems to go into overdrive and I start to overthink, and worry. It’s not a nice place to be and I know I am not alone. Why does everything seem so much worse in the middle of the night when you feel like the only one awake? It does always look so much better in the morning, once I have awoken from the fog of falling back into a deep sleep in the early hours. You know that slightly sick feeling you experience when you get up for one of those really early morning flights. The one that seemed like a good idea to book at the time, because it was so cheap!
It hasn’t always been like this for me. I used to sleep uninterrupted pretty much every night until my mid twenties. I spent more time awake on the dance floor into the early hours than I did in bed. Then when I was pregnant with baby number one – my body seemed to think it needed to prepare me by waking me at night. Add said baby into the mix, night feeds for 9 months and you have already started to form a pattern of disrupted sleep.
Make way for toddlers having bad dreams or being ill waking you in the middle of the night. Inevitably you get a rush of adrenalin as you hit the ground running to sort out their problem. Then teenagers who need picking up from parties at midnight or 1 in the morning so you are up and waiting to be the taxi driver. Finally when they are under their own steam and you no longer have to go and collect them, there is the inevitable worry about them getting home safely, so you always have one ear open to their arrival home.
I do have to point out the obvious elephant in the room, which is the menopause can cause havoc with your sleep pattern. Often waking you multiple times in the night. Some women wake with hot sweats, others like me just waking for what seems like no obvious reason, but sometimes up to ten times in a night. Blasted hormones!
But the thing that undoubtedly had the biggest impact on my sleep pattern was the armed robbery we had in our home. Read my blog post on ‘Coping with Trauma’ for more insight.
So what does this mean? Well for me personally I think it has made me a light sleeper. Easily disturbed and once awake then prone to lying in bed and worrying. So I now have an on off relationship with sleep and rarely sleep all the way through a night without at least waking once.
It is important however, that we don’t allow these feelings during the night to be connected to our beds which should be a place of rest and relaxation. If you do you are in danger of getting yourself into a vicious circle.
There are historical records of people sleeping in two bouts at night, the first bout being called dead sleep and the second, morning sleep. The wakeful period in between was referred to as watch or watching. This comes from a time before artificial lighting where a winter day could bring 14 hours of solid darkness, therefore people lived from sun to sun. In a recent study of a simulated winter day, it was made dark at 6pm and there was no light until 8am the following morning. Interestingly the subjects described the two hours they were awake as a form of meditative state.
So what seems to have happened is the notion of staying in bed in the dark for 12 hours was perhaps seen as a waste of time. We have therefore adapted to a more efficient way of sleeping by consolidating it into one long stretch. Maybe that was the beginning of the problems that some of us suffer at night?
Deliberate sleep deprivation has been used for centuries, as both a form of torture and a means for interrogation. As an interrogation technique, it was believed using sleep deprivation as well as other forms of torture would enhance and assist in extracting information. So therefore we know it is not a good thing to be suffering from.
Sleep deprivation can exacerbate pre-existing mood disturbances, and can lead to confusion, fatigue, and lack of vigour. Even just one sleepless night correlates with these changes in function.
When you catch up, it takes extra time for your body to recover. According to a study from 2016 , it takes four days to fully recover from one hour of lost sleep.
Many effects of lack of sleep, such as feeling grumpy and not working at your best, are well known. But did you know that sleep deprivation can also have profound consequences on your physical health? Also that one in 3 of us suffers from poor sleep, with stress, computers and taking work home often blamed.
When you are worrying at night, these feelings trigger your adrenalin response which is a physical reaction to what you are thinking and can therefore keep you awake. So we have to find a way to quieten these worries until such time as we can deal with them. Preferably during waking hours.
Add to the mix that there are age related changes to our sleep patterns. This has been assessed by looking at brain waves. When we are little we have a lot of very high, slow brain waves at the beginning of the night. This seems to be the time when you will experience the best and most restorative sleep.
But as the decades pass, these peaks diminish. If you imagine during adolescence these peaks are a high mountain, by early adulthood they are a peak and in the elderly a small hill. Consequently, as we age it is easier to wake us.
So what can you do to try to get back to sleep primarily, but to at least be relaxed and resting while you do so? These are some of the things that have worked for me over the years. (Disclaimer I am not a specialist but just sharing some of the tools I have picked up along the way. )
I asked my Instagram followers what helped them to get back to sleep and I am including these suggestions at the end.
TIP & TRICKS
Deep breathing exercises – exhaling all the air from your lungs and gently massaging your adrenal area just in the centre of your chest at the bottom of your rib cage. Sometimes the act of just breathing in deeply and exhaling for a long time is enough to make the body feel relaxed and floppy again.
Writing things down. For years now I have had a pen and notebook in the drawer next to my bed. If I think of something I need to do the next day I write it down. Invariably if I don’t I will lie in bed trying to work out how I am going to remember that thing the next day.
Don’t clock watch once you are awake (easier said than done with a church lock that chimes every quarter). If you do clock watch it just increases the pressure you are already feeling about being awake. Don’t lie in bed awake for too long, sometimes it is better to get out of bed, potter then return to bed. I have been known to be ironing at 3 in the morning!
Read a book until you feel sleepy again, this often makes my eyes feel very tired quickly.
Using TVs, tablets, smartphones, laptops, or other electronic devices before bed delays your body’s internal clock (also known as your circadian rhythm), it suppresses the release of the sleep inducing hormone melatonin, and makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
Don’t take your mobile phone into the bedroom, leave it downstairs. That way you won’t be tempted if you do wake in the night.
Have eye patches and ear plugs at the ready just in case. I wear eye patches most nights. These are said to trick your brain into believing it’s time for sleep. Therefore they are a low risk non chemical alternative.
Set yourself a goal of when you would like to be in bed and try and stick to it for a week. Therefore trying to break the pattern.
Exercise first thing in the morning if possible, but at some point most days, this will help you sleep better at night.
Eat a healthy and light meal in the evening and don’t eat too late at night.
Trying to avoid napping during the day – sometimes much easier said than done.
Visualising being in a place that you love to be and that makes you happy, my particular place is the beach in Portugal where I imagine the warm sand, the sun and the sound of the waves.
Imagining your worries are each in a balloon that is attached by string. One by one release each balloon with the worry and let it go. You can then pull the string back down to deal with the worry or problem in the morning, or when you are better equipped to do so.
Tips from my Instagram followers included:
- The CALM meditation app
- Aromotheraphy Associates Deep Relax Oil
- Headspace app
- CB Oil
- Listem to a podcast
- Classic FM
- Sleep Spray
- Cup of warm milk then back to bed
- Cup of tea then back to bed
- Pilates type breathing
- Focus on one area of the room, force yourself to stay awake and apparently the next thing its the morning.
Thank you for taking the time to read, I hope you are able to take something away from this. I am always happy to hear from you, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org xx