Sleep. When we don’t have enough sleep, all sorts of things can go awry! We have less patience, less focus, more cravings for low-quality foods, and more mental distress.
It’s one of those things that so many of us want more of, but it’s not something we can just buy at the store or make happen with a click of our heels. Sleep quality and quantity aren’t that easy to control. Just like our digestive health and our weight, sleep outcomes are dependent on of a lot of other factors… including the angst that comes with trying to manage insomnia or poor sleep!
So, instead of just another article about sleep hygiene – cue the eyeroll – we’re going to look more at context and things that many other articles don’t consider. Including self-compassion.
All About the Biochemical.
Look at your medications, supplements, herb, and recreational substances. When doctors prescribe or suggest things for us to take, they don’t always discuss what to look out for and things to consider, like time of day and what to take or avoid with it. They are also likely focused on the symptom they’re treating without considering the potential effect on sleep. This is the place for your own detective skills to come in. Read the inserts that come with your meds! Google your supplement’s name with “impact” and “sleep” in the query.
Notice your own experiences during the night of or morning after you smoke or drink. Even things that are supposed to help with sleep might be foiling your plans for getting ZZZs. Some people find that even things like chamomile tea can wake you up in the night – if your body doesn’t like something, it could act like a diuretic, making you get up at 3am to pee! And if you drink alcohol to help you fall asleep, that also causes you to wake up or have fitful early mornings due to an increase in metabolic activity as the alcohol leaves the system.
Remember, though, before changing anything you’re taking regularly, it wouldn’t hurt to discuss it with you doctor/nurse first – even if it doesn’t feel like an abrupt change.
Collaborate with Fellow Dwellers About Sleep Quality
How are your roommates, family, partner, or even neighbors impacting your sleep? Does your mom like to do dishes at 5am? Does your roommate make a ruckus getting ready to go on their early morning hike? This might be a good space to stretch your self-advocacy muscles. See if whatever the disruption is could be changed…
If your partner needs to leave for work at 7am and the whole house shakes as the garage opens, this might not be negotiable. However, they may be willing to not to sing or blast music in the shower.
Many of us struggle to ask for what we need effectively. This would be a great time to learn about the DEAR MAN skill from DBT. It is a useful tool when learning to be more assertive and persuasive in asking for and getting what you need. Give it a go – you can even recruit a friend to practice!
Look Beyond Our Culture and Consider Naps
Would it surprise you if I told you that we, as a species, aren’t innately wired for just one long marathon sleep a day? It’s true. Just like humans can do best on a variety of dietary patterns, the same is true with sleep. In American culture, naps are laughed off or reserved for children in preschool. But this is peculiar when considering the rest of the world. Most of Latin America take an extended “siesta” rest after lunchtime. Throughout the Mediterranean, naps in the afternoon are a mainstay as well. And, the Chinese have long seen an afternoon nap as key to health and longevity.
If you can’t take a nap, try taking a screen time break and either turning the indoor lights off or spending some time outdoors in the shade. Consider other ways you can downshift for 30-90 minutes midday, like scheduling tasks you can complete with less passion or reserving those times for solo projects and meetings that are less activating for your nervous system.
Why Self-Compassion is Important for Good Rest
So many of us who struggle with sleep can practically recite the laundry list of “sleep hygiene” tips that saturate the internet. It’s frustrating: you do the thing and your sleep doesn’t just magically fix itself. You’ve dropped plenty of cash on blackout curtains, special bedding, and mattresses, and all sorts of apps and recordings. You might have even quit your gaming time with friends or cut out a favorite pastime like evening TV or scrolling social media. I’ve even heard some folks share that they’ve completely turned their sex lives upside-down, impacting their relationships in a big way for limited effect. Perhaps you’ve even repurposed a relaxing activity like yoga or meditation into a chore to help you sleep instead of being the enjoyable option it once was. Even lavender and spa music have become merely a means to an end.
Listen up! Just like eating and movement are more enjoyable when you slow down and connect, so are all of these self-care choices when you make them for reasons other than your sleep goals. Choose bedding because you love the way it feels on your skin or how it drapes your bed. Indulge in lavender pillow spray or a candle-lit solo yoga session at home because your body loves that sensory experience. And for goodness sake, make choices about sex for deeper reasons like connection and satisfaction!
When you take the expectations and objectives away, you can stay mindful, live in the moment, and deeply nourish your soul. More importantly, pursuing sleep goals with so much pressure on ourselves actually raises anxiety and can leave us feeling disempowered, which is NOT good for your sleep.
Here’s to a reframe and a re-set around sleep! If you want to delve deeper into this, feel free to reach out.