Who does not like waking up in the morning feeling like they have slept like a baby, with the sun peeking through the blinds, while they slowly return to the world by gently stretching their arms above their head with a smile on their face, ready for another beautiful day?
Reality is more like hearing the noise of an alarm while slowly opening one eye with great difficulty to wonder if it is really morning already, debating if they should hit the snooze button or drag themselves out of bed.
A topic I have not given enough credit to is sleep. It’s one of the most important self-care methods, along with what we eat and our exercise and mental wellness. If we do not get enough sleep, our other self-care efforts will be disturbed.
Sleep determines how we feel about ourselves, how we manage stress, and how we will eat that day. It affects our mental well-being along with altering our ability to manage pain both emotionally and physically.
The average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep. We hear so many different ideas of how much sleep is good enough. Some people will say that we are all different and that some people only need a few hours while others need 10 hours.
Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually show that about 35 percent of American’s do not get the recommended seven hours sleep a night. Studies also show that anxiety and depression are often related to lack of sleep.
I am not sure which comes first—does sleep affect our anxiety and depression, or does depression and anxiety affect our sleep? Maybe both. What we do know is that when our sleep is affected, our frontal lobe – which is responsible for following through, goal setting, and thinking – is diminished, while our ability to manage emotions is limited.
In my practice, I am seeing sleep disturbances increasing even in this moment where we have more time to sleep. What is getting in the way?
I believe that we never permit our body to slow down enough to allow ourselves to rest and sleep. We spend so much of our day in our head, thinking, pushing ourselves physically, and often eating and drinking late at night that leaves our body still trying to process it all.
Just as we need a ritual in the morning to get our day started, we need a nightly routine. We are constantly told not to watch television in bed, and while on occasion this is okay, typically it is better for our sleep health to not do this. This also includes working in bed or being on our phones or iPads.
I usually take 30 to 60 minutes in the evening as a nightly ritual to bring myself to a place of peacefulness. Turning off all noise is key to get started. I slow down my movements as I get ready for bed. Sometimes I will put on some quiet music that relaxes me. Even as I wash my face and clean my teeth I do it in slow motion to allow my body to relax.
I love this time as I feel my muscles and mind find a sense of peace and calmness. I always drink a nice glass of warm water to make sure I am hydrated. I know, I am lucky this does not make me have to get up in the middle of the night. I then take a moment to stretch my body. Just a little. Just enough to make me feel more present as I get into bed.
Oh that feeling of getting into bed and sinking into the crisp sheets and soft pillow. I usually feel an inside sense of “ahh.” What a wonderful feeling. This is one of my favorite experiences of the day.
Once I am settled, I spend a few minutes reflecting on my day, asking such questions as “what did I learn today?” “What am I proud of today?” “What can I improve going forward?”
I keep this all positive, as I know that what I focus on in the evening, my brain will feed on during my sleep. From here I take out my book or if I am listening to an audio book I turn that on for about 30 minutes. Lastly, I spend time in prayer/meditation and/or visualization.
When it is now time to sleep I feel at peace, ready to allow my body and mind to softly move into that wonderful experience rest and relaxation. Maybe I do not wake up like I am in a fairy tale, however I do wake up ready to make the day matter.
David Benioff, author of the book “City of Thieves,” said “I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.”
So before you got to bed, put the monsters away, clear your brain and climb into bed and allow yourself to say “ahh.”