Monday, 26 October 2015

Trying to get a good night's sleep

Trying to get a good night's sleep

I've always been a good sleeper. When I was a child I used to enjoy the sensation of falling asleep, still do, and I can still fall asleep very quickly, but for the last few weeks my mind has been whirring and I'm having lots of wide-awake moments in the middle of the night (why is it always 3.30am?) and I'm not getting a full night of good quality sleep.

When I wake in the night, it's like BANG I'm wide awake and there will be a song playing on repeat in my head. Just recently it's been Queen of Peace by Florence and the Machine which, considering she has a voice like a foghorn, seems a bit ironic really.

Added to that, I've been having some back problems which is making the sleep issue even more difficult.

To try and resolve it and find some answers to why I'm sleeping badly, I'm having a bit of help from a Silentnight's sleep expert. I know, I didn't know there was such a thing either but there is.

After completing a sleep diary and questionnaire, I had my first session with Dr Nerina, a couple of weeks ago, and it wasn't quite what I was expecting. Sure, it started off as I imagined it would with questions about my quality of sleep, sleep routine, nutrition and how much caffeine I drink (too much tea apparently) and I picked up some tips on how to get a good night's sleep:
  • Avoid using technology at least an hour before going to bed.  It can make the brain too stimulated;
  • Reading a book in bed will help you to relax before going to sleep;
  • If you have things on your mind, jot them down in a journal. Putting pen to paper can help to clear a busy mind;
  • cut down on caffeine from lunch time onwards. If you can't go without a cuppa try decaff for a change;
  • Put a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow. The scent helps to calm the mind and induce sleep;
  • Invest in a good quality mattress and check for signs of wear . If yours is older than 7 years it might be time to get a new one;
  • don't keep your phone next to your bed, it's too tempting to check it during the night; 
  • Instead of using your phone as an alarm, buy an old-fashioned alarm clock and keep the phone downstairs, or at least away from the bedside table;
  • if you wake during the night, don't  check the time. Instead, try a breathing technique to get back to sleep: Kundalini breathing is particularly good for a wired mind and body. Sit up straight in bed, pucker your lips as if holding a 10p coin, breathe in forcefully through the lips, exhale through the nose. Do this for one - two minutes;
  • Create the perfect sleep environment. Make your bedroom tranquil, calm and free from clutter, junk and technology. You should never bring your work life into the bedroom – make it a technology free zone.
Then it took an unexpected turn. She thought, from my answers and sleep diary, that I was "running on empty" and asked me, "So, who looks after you?"

I wasn't expecting that, and honestly didn't know how to respond, but I suppose it's something many parents are guilty of, and single parents are probably even worse.  When there's only you doing everything it's very easy to be swept up in the busyness of life, and fall into the trap of not looking after yourself. There's always something that needs doing, or someone else to take care of, and looking after Number 1 is usually way down on the To Do List.

After establishing that my self-care is pretty minimal, Dr Nerina thought I should concentrate more on paying more attention to myself and my own needs. It's strange to hear a stranger, to all intents and purposes, say that you need to put yourself first, and consciously think about making some life changes.  "It takes energy to change direction" she said.  I've thought about that a lot since our session, and she's right, it does take energy (and courage) to change direction, but I suppose you also need to know which direction to take.

While I'm thinking about that, I'm going to be making a few smaller changes, and hope to see an improvement in the quality of my sleep,  I'm going to be making some of the changes suggested by Dr Nerina, including decluttering and tidying my bedroom which I think will also help.  I'll be writing about that later this week.

Disclosure: this is part of a collaboration with Silentnight, but words and opinions are my own.