Getting a good night's sleep is not always as simple as it seems. For something so natural and biologically necessary, it can seem very elusive and difficult to achieve at times. I have helped many parents support their children in getting better sleep. Although it was helpful to eliminate the nightly interruptions from their children, many parents found that they still weren't able to get the sleep they need.
The first place to look, is at the behavioural changes that can be made to improve sleep hygiene. Things like ensuring you're getting to bed and waking around the same time each day. Creating a sleep sanctuary and protecting your sleep space so it's restful and conducive to sleep. Examining your bedtime routine and how you're spending those last few minutes before you close your eyes.
But what can we do about the mental or emotional aspects of our sleep hygiene? What if you're doing all the "right" things, yet sleep just still isn't feeling restful and restorative?
"Dear Sleep, ..."
This is where I suggest taking an opportunity to explore your relationship with sleep. If sleep hasn't always come easily, or you identify as a "bad sleeper", you may have some opinions, thoughts and feelings about sleep that you've not acknowledged before. These unconscious thoughts could be impacting your ability to relax easily into sleep.
Step 1: Practice Mindfulness
Take some time to think about how you relate to sleep. Do you miss it? Are you angry with it? Does it feel out of your control? Do you feel it's working against you? Do you feel like it's wasting your time? Do you want it so badly but you can't seem to get it? Do you even think about it? Or is it at all you think about? Are you jealous of how your partner sleeps?
Then take the time to write it all down and lay it all out in a letter to sleep. See sleep as one other relationship in your life and air all of your concerns. Writing has a huge therapeutic impact and is a tool to externalize much of what we are internalizing. When we see it written out, it's easier to make choices about how to relate to it. This process may feel uncomfortable for some and things may show up you didn't realize were there. Remember to go slowly and stop when it feels overwhelming. Before you begin, know who you can reach out to for support if you need it.
When you've finished identifying all the feelings you have about sleep, sit with them for a bit. Take some time to sit quietly and breathe. Notice what you feel in your body. Notice what thoughts, feelings or sensations come up for you. Greet them with love and kindness. Allow them to move through you without resistance or judgement. Trust the process.
Step 2: Recognize common humanity
Remember, you are a human being among a world full of other human beings. Everybody is living life in a body just like you are. These bodies need sleep to survive. We're all living with stresses, struggles, and losses that affect our bodies’ ability to settle into sleep. You are not alone in your struggle. You are not alone with your tenuous relationship with sleep.
Step 3: Extend kindness to yourself
Now that you've become more familiar with the relationship you have with sleep, consider what things you can do to support sleep in your life. Like any other relationship, what changes can you make? Where can you extend some kindness or forgiveness to yourself? What choices are you making that could be sabotaging your sleep? What is within your control and what isn't? What can you do today to improve your sleep?
Go gently. Be kind to yourself and your body. On those nights when sleep isn't coming easily, get up and do something else for a bit. Be careful of negative self-talk or judgement. There will be nights when you don't sleep well and that's okay. Instead of staying in bed wishing and waiting for sleep to come, get up and do something else that's restorative. Journal, stretch, breathe, colour. Do something that gets you out of your head and into your body. Calm down your nervous system and then return to your bed and try again.
Night by night, work on that relationship. It starts with you. Be kind, be generous and set yourself up for success. Allow for setbacks because it isn’t always going to be easy. Kindly get your mind, body, and spirit back on track so they can work harmoniously to allow you to bring your amazing self wholeheartedly into the world.