Look at that kitten... wish you could be like her? Just for a little while? You're not alone: a whopping 3.3 million Canadians suffer every night with you. But rather than rolling around in your bed all night, let's consider what you can do about addressing these common stumbling blocks...
(Warning: This post is a lengthy beast, but if you're lying awake in the night, it will be time well spent!)
Here are some of the most common reasons I find my patients are lying awake at night and the solutions I recommend for each:
And you don't know how to stop... and even if you could, you somehow you think this makes you “more prepared”. It just sucks that you *have* to do it at night, right? Lol... I'm a recovering worry-wort myself. I get it. You're losing sleep going over details and scenarios in your mind about how bad things were, are, or could become. The big Ah-Ha here is that worrying is a just mental habit, it's not in your DNA. It's a way of thinking that some of us have trained ourselves is “default”. Think of it like any other habitual behaviour, no different from smoking, for example. It's just something you do when either a) you need to fill in the time between things or b) because you compulsively feel you “need” to.
Well, I'm telling you this: You don't "need" to worry and you can find better ways to fill your time. (Sleeping perhaps?) But that's the meat and potatoes of it... Worrying is just a habit. A nasty habit I'll grant you... it robs you of sleep, joy, time, and energy, among other things. But it's just a habit, nonetheless.
People often think that worrying helps them somehow become better prepared for when the feared disaster strikes, this is just false. How many times has your worry habit nailed what was actually about to happen? I'd be surprised if disaster ever struck you exactly the way you imagined it. Frequently, my patients tell me they see the futility of worrying but don't know how to stop.
I tell them they have 2 options: either learn to re-direct your thinking (this is a life skill btw) or go do something to distract yourself until the “hold” of worry passes (a useful, but temporary measure). If you're a midnight worrier and need to learn how to re-direct your thinking, this is part of what learning to meditate can do for you. So can reading books like Marianne Williamson's A Return To Love, which will help you shift your perception of things in a meaningful way.
For ladies especially, this is another biggie! This may be you if you aren't a worrier per se, and you don't have trouble falling asleep, but it's staying asleep that's the trick! You're lying awake at night, but with with a “blank” mind – not thinking or worrying about anything in particular, you're just awake. Not sure why, and painfully aware of it.
Let's consider how you live your life all day... how often is it that you (or women you know) are always puttering and busying themselves with something? You know the type... wouldn't be caught dead sitting on her couch day-dreaming out the window. Not when there's dust on the shelf, laundry to fold, meals to plan... I mean my God, she might lose precious time and then, it will never all get done! Her daily routine looks something like – get up >> look after pets and coffee >> showered and coiffed for the day >> get kids and hubby moving and fed >> get 'em all out the door >> get herself out the door >> work all day (usually at a workplace that eats lunch at their desk and sees break-takers as slackers) >> pick up kids and get home in max traffic >> unpack car, take off coat and shoes >> sit for 5 seconds annnnnnd....... >> start daily chores >> make supper >> do the dishes and argue with the kids to get the homework done >> bath time and bedtime >> and once that's finally done... they collapse. Exhausted.
Sound familiar? If that's you, you are addicted to running your life on stress and your stress hormone cortisol. Spending your whole day fighting the urge to relax, means that in the middle of the night, you body... finally about to relax... as if on auto-pilot your mind goes “Nope! Get up! Keep moving! We're falling behind!”. You've trained your body to respond to the state of relaxation by jolting into action. So much a for a good night's sleep. The solution is rethinking and rewiring how you live your day. You'll need to learn how to relax effectively and just enjoy the luxury of it (this is also a life skill). Yoga, meditation, guided relaxations, a real vacation (just for you, not the whole fam), are all great ways to let the incessant “get-shit-done-a-thon” go. After you've had a breather, often it becomes apparent that you (and often your hubby and kids) are over-committed... and the choice is either cut-back and embrace relaxation or continue running on fumes and losing sleep.
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It seems like there really is just so much going on... and you can't process it all during the day, so you do it at night. While part of this goes back to both #1 and #2, there's something more sinister going on here... you lie awake and while not fearful about what is happening or may happen, but their minds are still going a mile a minute.
In practice, I've found when people say “there's just so much going on” it's actually turns out after a few visits that... you've got important shit to say/do and haven't said/done it yet. Read: You're stalling! If you had truly done everything you could, and you're sure you're not worrying unnecessarily, then you'd be asleep. You'd be at peace that the situation is out of your hands.
The reasons you are holding back may be myriad... even in some cases, the situation may be “resolved”, but for whatever reason you aren't a peace with it. It will haunt you at night until you find a way make peace with it. I mean true honest-to-goodness-in-your-heart-of-hearts peace with it. Not just conceding the situation is all you have and “living with it” or “putting up with it” for the sake of not rocking the boat.
If this sounds like you, your heart and mind is saying that something is wrong with this situation. Don't be squeamish about taking a good sober look to find out, and take steps to fix it. Free-form journalling is really helpful about getting clarity around this. Give it a try and just see what comes out!
There is a large body of medical research that has proven that nightshifts affect people's health and of course, sleeping patterns. It's fact. If this is you, I feel for ya. It's a rough spot – you gotta work, so you can eat, pay the bills, look after your family... but don't fool yourself, in working nights you are trading more than just your time and energy for a paycheck. Almost everyone incurs costs as a result of going to work (i.e. professional wardrobe, vehicle wear and tear, and commuting time), but night shifters can add their health to that list. My patients report to me that to accustom oneself to go switching nights to days and vice versa takes at least 5 days before they feel “normal”. So, by the time you are adjusted, you're almost done your one week “hitch” and then it's time to shift back to days – and time for another 5 day transition. Your poor body trying to cope with that insanity!
If this is you, I'd recommend staying on nightshift for as long a hitch as you can before switching back in order to minimize the sleep and energy wastage with this 5 day disruption/adaptation time. Alternately, you could work towards finding another job with better hours that you enjoy?
So many of us are leaving lights, televisions, electronics, etc on through the night... and we think they are helping us sleep. Reality check: they're not. Obviously, a disturbing 10pm news report about the state of the middle east doesn't do much for your peace of mind. Even if you are watching something enjoyable, you'll be surprised to learn that the light pollution from the street, the standby lights on your electronics, or the light from the hallway peeking under the door has a significant impact on your melatonin production.
Melatonin is your sleep hormone. It's produced at night and it makes you sleepy. In the morning, it's production stops in response to blue spectrum light hitting the back of the eye (i.e. Retina). Evolutionarily speaking, this was an ingenious adaptation – we wake up naturally with the sunrise and seeing the blue sky. The problem is, this is directly in opposition to how we have come to live. Too bad we can't evolve to tune out street lights and electronics faster...
Practicing good “sleep hygiene” means working with our bodies to unwind and sleep well. It means affording yourself the appropriate “sundown” time to transition into sleepiness. It means sleeping in a cool dark room, that's quiet: cool means 17-18 degrees C; dark means almost pitch dark; quiet means no unnecessary buzzing/sounds if they can be helped. Granted, traffic, neighbours, and the weather can't really be helped much, but do what you can. Sometimes, a white noise machine can help drown out the abruptness of the sounds which keeps people awake.
Did you like this article? Do any of these reasons sound like you? What strategies have your tried? Did they help? Speak up in the comments below, you never know when sharing your story or sleep trick might help someone else!
As always, my enormous thanks for your readership and for sharing your voice to help others.
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