Up until I was thirty seven years old, I never had a problem sleeping. There were times when I was disturbed by housemates or a looming project interrupted my usual sleep pattern but I always knew that I could catch up the next night. Even though there were some days when I felt tired, I never quite understood what other people were going through when suffering from insomnia or broken sleep. That was until last year when I had a baby.
Amelie didn’t sleep for 11 months and during those long nights I understood why sleep deprivation was used as a torture technique. To make matter worse, I soon found that not only were her cries disturbing me every few hours, I then stopped being able to sleep in the short intervals. I would lie in bed feeling tense and isolated as Matt continued to snore by my side, oblivious to my utter exhaustion.
And as Matt will testify, after a few months of having a depleted sleep tank, my personality started to change. Firstly I became super sensitive to comments and my sense of humour had left the building. While I had limitless patience with Amelie, this did not extend to my closest (Matt) and often he would light a very short fuse with a well meaning comment, or god format – tried to make a joke. Anything outside my usual routine felt overwhelming and I began to dread social invitations. Life felt hard and in many ways it was; however looking back (with a full sleep tank in place), I believe I could have made the experience much easier on myself.
However when we’re in the trenches, we cant always see the light. Now whenever I’m experiencing a period of interrupted sleep, i follow these 3 simple rules which I wanted to share for anyone else that is also going through the same thing.
1) Being kind to ourselves
(This actually applies to our every day life, not just when we can’t sleep). All too often, when we’re exhausted we stop being kind to ourselves. Not only do we expect ourselves to perform in the same way that we would if we had a full nights sleep but we also don’t factor our tired state when planning our time.It’s often when we’re tired that our demons come out to play and we can compare and berate ourselves, forgetting that we’re doing the best we can. While we cant put out lives on hold or take time off from work, we can decide what we do with our time after work. This is when we should be looking at ways to nurture ourselves and recharge our batteries. Yes our families need us, but really we’ll be able to give so much more if we have looked after our own needs first. We’ll all have different techniques for this (for me its having a massage or reflexology treatment), but it’s so important that we are sleep deprived that we prioritise our needs and treat ourselves with kindness.
2) Following a sleep ritual
When we go to bed, our state of mind hugely influences our sleep. Having a night time ritual in place really helps me to get into bed feeling calm and ultimately even if I do wake up i feel more rested in the morning. Even when I am sleeping well, I try to make sure that each evening i have 30 minutes when I can unwind in an environment that allows my mind to switch off. This means being away from the TV, Internet and phone – all these these activities are stimulating and falling asleep in front of the TV is one of the worst things we can do for getting good quality sleep. Ideally we need to have a tidy bedroom – clutter and mess-free, dim lights, lavender essential oil and a warm bath ( I often put lavender oil in my epsom salts when I’m having trouble sleeping). I also have a journal by my bed so I can write anything down that I want to do the next day.
3) Asking for help
When we are tired it can feel that we on our own and that there is a huge amount of responsibility/stress on our shoulders. Asking for help is really important when we feel overwhelmed and exhausted. With hindsight there was a lot of support for a nocturnal baby. I had a husband, a sister round the corner and many sleep consultants out there. However when I was in the middle of it all, i didn’t know where to start. Even though people would say ‘let me know what I can do’, i didn’t take anyone up on their offers. I believe that if I had asked for help that my friends and family would have rallied around – I just needed to let them. So for anyone that is unable to see the wood for the trees, ask a trusted friend for help and see what solutions you can create. We are never on our own.