Sleep: Why i couldn't and why i can now

I used to wake up, without fail, almost every single night. Providing I actually got myself to sleep in the first place, I would lie there in bed thinking about what someone had said that day and then imagine myself saying what I wish I had said, and then their new imaginary response. If only I knew then, what I know now...

Basically, I would have imaginary arguments (which would literally inspire the same physical response as if they were real) at two in the morning and wonder why I couldn’t sleep. There were those nights, and then there were nights that I would be thinking of the things I didn’t get done and the things that I still needed to do. The most pleasurable (if you could call it that), were the nights where I would come up with amazing ideas. I would make plans for the future and because the ideas were good, I felt like I couldn’t sleep until I had fleshed them out and understood the whole entire concept.

Needless to say, the following day I almost always felt like crap. Exhausted not only by the lack of sleep but also by the adrenalin crash that would follow. I would have hardly any motivation to achieve any of the ideas that I had had, but further, if I had spent the night ‘arguing’ in my head, then I would wake up angry. Being angry all the time is bloody exhausting. Combine no sleep with some self righteous anger and you get one explosive combination. Add nicotine and caffeine to the mix (I used to smoke a pack a day, and drink about 12 cups of coffee) and um, no surprises I couldn’t sleep the following night!

I think back now at just how ridiculously embedded I was in that cycle and I think about how ‘normal’ that was to me. I grew up around that kind of pattern. That’s literally what I thought all adults did. I had zero idea that it was a really disfunctional, unhealthy pattern because everyone else I knew did almost the same thing too.

This reminds me that there are still people out there living that. Where that cycle is their normal. It might be normal for you. But it’s not healthy, and it’s not a very productive way to operate. There are other ways!!!

For me, one of the things that I did first was ditch the cigarettes and the caffeine. BUT, I didn’t do that without help. I know how hard it was for me, and I near pulled my own hair out and it’s quite amazing that anyone near me actually survived. I was in a 12 step recovery group and I had people around me, a whole community that were supporting me and helping me to change the way that I thought. I can’t recommend that enough. If you’re dealing with addiction, it’s gripping and a lot of people die without ever getting better.

Addictions aside, another thing that I did was that I picked better friends. Rather than having imaginary arguments with people that piss me off, I would spend less time with people that triggered me and more time with people who would help build me up. More time with people who wanted better for me and who didn’t say things that would make me sit up at 2am thinking about what I should have said back. I think more than choosing better people though, I had better boundaries and when I did my relationships kind of changed themselves. 

I also worked on actually saying things in the moment. Rather than biting my tongue and repressing my thoughts and my emotions, I worked on saying what I needed to say when that person was actually there. I practiced saying things without rage, and saying things as diplomatically as I could, that would get my point across without steam-rolling the other person. You see, I had two settings: Door mat, and steam roller. I would be ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!’. It was so unhealthy. Learning to actually say no when I needed to and not once I’d been pushed past my limit was huge as well.

There’s a book that I highly recommend called ‘Boundaries’, and it’s where I learnt a lot about being able to own my own problems and let other people own theirs instead of taking everything on like it was my problem.

When it came to the things I had to do, I started keeping a note pad by the bed, and I would just write them down and tell myself that I would deal with them tomorrow. I didn’t have to think about them now, because I could think about them then. Same thing for the ‘grand ideas’. Just write the idea down, and promise myself to flesh it out in the morning with a fresh brain. It’s actually incredible what can happen when you look at some of these ideas with a fresh brain. Some of them flesh out to be great. Others, you think, ‘Oh dear God, I must have been half asleep already – this is madness’. I am often grateful for the morning’s perspective and not having spent half the night in a state fleshing out a crazy idea.

If you’re having trouble sleeping I recommend a couple of things:

1) Exercise. Big time. This is my go to. I wish I still had a pool because it was my saving grace more than once. A walk that really gets your heart rate up is good too, though.

2) Look at what you’re putting in your body. Caffeine, nicotine, energy drinks (quickest way to crash your nervous system, GEEZE), and sugar. Put a limit on these things if you can’t cut them out and make sure you at the very least don’t do them anywhere near bed time. If you’re like me and you wake up hungry eat something with protein before bed. A boiled egg, or some chicken or if you’re vegan maybe some tofu or something. Protein stops a blood sugar high and keeps you from waking up hungry.

3) Have a hot shower before bed. We have tank water at our place and I still manage to shower to wake up properly and shower to go to sleep properly. It’s crazy how the same thing can do very different things at different times of the day. I find that a shower before bed helps me to wind down, and ‘wash away’ the day. *Cue the theme song from Frozen. Ha!

4) Journal! I rabbit on so much about getting your stuff out. But if you get it all out on paper at the end of the day, and you consciously ‘turn the page’ to see the blank page for tomorrow, it makes it a whole heap less likely that you’ll stew on things that happened – you’ve already got them out. You can check out the journal I designed for myself (for staying on top of both my physical AND mental health) HERE

5) Start to look at the things that are getting to you (not at bed time). If they’re coming up at bed time, write them down and promise yourself that you’ll deal with them the next day. Stop putting things off and pushing things to the side. Actually look at what your brain is telling you you should look at. When you start to deal with your stuff it stops haunting you as soon as you sit still. Front up.

6) See a counsellor. I know I’ve said it before but sometimes we need someone to hear our stuff and help us get rid of some of it. If you’ve seen one and it wasn’t a great experience – remember that they are humans. Think about that girl that served you at the café once who really shouldn’t be working in customer service… The same thing applies in the mental health industry. Some people are awful at their job. Don’t let that put you off finding someone better. Sometimes it takes a while to find someone that fits and that’s ok too. A great counsellor is GOLD.

7) Pray.  I don't care what your belief system is and I'm not trying to convert you. Find a higher power and pray. Ask your higher power to "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference".  Keep asking until something gives. It works if you work it.

8) One more thing is a breathing technique I stole off the inter webs.

Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard trained medical doctor with a focus on holistic health, believes getting the best sleep ever is as simple as breathing in and breathing out. He has an exercise:  “The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise,” 

  1. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.

  2. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.

  3. Hold your breath for a count of seven.

  4. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.

  5. This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

** Everything in italics above has been taken from the Medical Daily article titled "The Life Hack That Puts You To Sleep in 60 Seconds"...

There are other things. Anger management is huge. So is learning how to not worry about things… but they’re a blog for another day…

 - Michelle.