Sleep (or more accurately, lack of)
I begin this post at 5 o’clock. Morning not evening. I’m neither irritated nor worried about my nocturnal wanderings. Insomnia is familiar and sometimes welcome. The house is quiet. I am limited to activities that are slow and gentle so as not to wake the family. I find that I’m naturally more mindful as each step or door close is performed with muted thuds. Last week I even managed to unload the dishwasher without the slightest ding or clatter. A proud moment, secretly achieved.
At half seven, I’ll experience a burst of energy. The laundry will go on and the dog coaxed from her warm spot on my youngest’s bed. Her eyes will widen, knowing that she has been caught on furniture but she’s currently a comfort for an 11 year who is struggling with lockdown. A warm body providing needed reassurance to my girl for the small price of two daily walks and the odd bit of dried meat. It’s freezing out but fortunately there’s no wind. The wind on the Welsh coast has a way of penetrating even the snuggest of coats. I’ve taken to wearing my ski gear. It’s the closet I’ll get to draft proof and let’s face it I won’t be skiing this year.
Helped by several strong coffees, my morning will be full of vigour and purpose. My to-do list will be knocked out of the ball park. Woo! Home run. I’ve responded to emails, got the kids into their online classroom and cleaned the loos. I’m on fire until about 12.30pm. As I don’t eat breakfast, my first meal of the day is usually large and protein rich. In cold weather, I favour a vegetable omelette or bowl of stew. Stodge. But good stodge. Plenty of satisfying nutrition. With kids fed and tasks set for the afternoon I feel the first lull. The question is: do I take a nap or push on through? Following years of disrupted sleep due to babies with sturdy lungs I have developed a good sense of when to nap and when to push through. Anything longer than an hour and after 3pm will effect the following night. The one thing I can be sure of, following a disrupted nights sleep, is that I’ll sleep well the night after. I trust my body to know what is best.
Whether I nap or not today, I’m not sure. Without sleep I have to use more willpower to manage feelings of high emotion.
I am more easily irritated. Living my life with love is important to me. It’s easy in these situations to lash out with a barbed tongue but even the smallest jagged comment can have repercussions down the line. I want my family to be emotionally robust. Hardening them up through derision and criticism is not a recipe for sound self esteem.
Sleep deprivation means that I also lack focus. Using the morning to get through those tasks where I need clarity is sensible. However, sometimes I have to knuckle down and move past the fatigue. Caffeine helps but too much leaves me feeling wired. I stay hydrated and eat regularly. Tiredness makes me hungry. I know that lack of sleep is linked to increased stressed and insulin resistance. In the past, tiredness would trigger a binge. Sometimes resulting in thousands of extra calories being consumed before I crawled guiltily to bed. Thankfully, that habit has gone but a craving for something sweet will often result in me repeatedly opening the fridge looking for a sugary answer. Reason mostly wins but when it doesn’t I eat something delicious with my full attention. I will not waste a bowl of salted caramel loveliness by bolting it down.
Water is important too. Much to my surprise I realised about 10 years ago that dehydration makes me feel groggy. Why this revelation was not realised earlier I have no idea but the moment I put these two states together I had a mini epiphany. It was around the time that I also discovered nutrition actually mattered. That it had an effect on how I felt and thought. Who knew?! How this passed me by I don’t know but hopefully my musings will settle on my children’s ears; and although they would happily opt for Cheerios and cheese toasties today, tomorrow they may pick up a carrot or eat a salad.
My evening is relaxed and I accept when fatigue has won by settling down to a sensible 10pm end to my day. From experience, I know that I’ll sleep through. Waking refreshed and positive.
On a serious note, I’m not so arrogant to ignore that sleep deprivation and insomnia can seriously effect an individual’s quality of life. According to the NHS, a third of the population (approx. 22 million) don’t get the prescribed 8-hours a night. In some extreme cases insomnia leads to serious mental illness. Our mind repairs during the sleep. If we are continuously deprived our mind will break. I also know that trying to work a challenging shift that requires concentration or managing a hoard of kids puts additional stress on our bodies and minds. It ain’t easy; in those early days of motherhood and when I was in the middle of a mental health crisis during my thirties the term knackered was frequently used. I felt pretty broken. On the edge.
For me, the most empowering thing I now do is accept that I won’t sleep 8 hours every night. Fewer hours is not a disaster. I can function and achieve. I know how my body works best, so I structure my day accordingly. Building up mental health resilience and giving myself some leeway has been key.
Laura’s top tips to help improve disrupted sleep
- Accept that lack of sleep isn’t a disaster. Say to yourself, “what’s the worst that can happen?”. If the answer is, “I’ll be tired and a bit grumpy”, then you’ll be okay.
- Identify and change what might be too stimulating later in the day. This may include being in a highly emotive state before bed due to a disagreement or watching a film (weirdly romantic, period dramas do it for me), screen time after 8pm, caffeine (it’s not just in coffee) or working into the evening. Switch off well before bedtime. Two hours is best but an hour, at minimum)
- Practice techniques to build emotional resilience. Worry can be one of those things that can wake you night after night but it can also be easily resolved. Worry leads to stress and anxiety. Over time it can cause other mental health illnesses, such as depression. Techniques that help reduce levels of worry include journaling, mindfulness and exercising daily. Working with a therapist or coach can further help you develop strategies to create a natural resistance to worry and effectively deal with stressful situations.
I can help you build emotional resilience and deal with stress more effectively. Find out more about Stress & Anxiety Coping Strategy Coaching here or by calling me on 01267 309267.