It’s 11 pm on any given night in our house. My alarm will go off at 7 am, so I believe there’s more than enough time for me to get an adequate night’s sleep.
I put on my comfy pajamas, kiss my kids goodnight and tell my dog I’ll see her in the morning. The exact moment I lay my head on my pillow, there’s a bit of a problem and the battle begins. My mind starts racing and all of a sudden I’m instantly thinking of things to put on my to-do list for the next day.
I kind of thought I handled all of this before I got ready for bed (that was kind of the point of me going to bed and thinking that I was done for the day), but apparently I wasn’t.
This is a battle I fight almost every night. After I’ve spent the several hours teaching, running errands, mommying, going places, racing around town, posting on social media, commenting on blog posts, and writing my own blog posts, I have a hard time shutting my brain off.
I even may have tweeted one of my writing mentors about not being about to shut my brain off.
5 am. Yep. And I won’t bore you with the screenshot of another tweet where I mentioned that my kids were late for school one day last April because I was up all night. I just couldn’t turn my brain off. For a while I blamed the whole thing on thyroid disease. And sleep difficulties are a symptom of thyroid disease but that doesn’t mean I should never get enough rest. Sleep is important. Sleep is necessary. I have been living for more than a decade with difficulty sleeping.
My first bout with insomnia that kept me up all night occurred about 11 years ago when I was a momma of three toddlers. I worked full-time outside of the home and my husband was a police officer who worked a shift that required him to be up every morning at 3 am. After living that lifestyle for a few years, I eventually felt like a walking zombie. A zombie who couldn’t turn her brain off to rest but who was too tired to do anything productive.
I went to our family doctor who instantly prescribed me with a sleep aid and anxiety meds. While I was able to get rest when taking them, I felt like I was moving in slow motion the 16 hours of the day that I wasn’t asleep. While taking the meds, I wondered how someone under the influence of that medicine could be allowed to operate a car or function at any capacity that required the usage of brain cells.
My dilemma was simple: I needed to get to the root of my sleep problems and still maintain a normal life. That was difficult until I embarked on a sleep improvement journey of my own.
In order to get to the root of my sleep problems, I also needed to figure out if there were traits in my personality could have anything to do with this. You see, I’m a natural extrovert. I’m always full of energy and typically the life of the party. I feed off of people and I get my energy from being around others. But all of that energy for the entire time I’m awake makes it very difficult for me to fall asleep.
Secondly, I needed to get a handle on the stress in my life. I mentioned that I was a married mom of three toddlers, but what I didn’t mention earlier was that my oldest had just been diagnosed with epilepsy and my marriage was falling apart.
Being a stressed out extrovert was not a fun life to live. Soon thereafter, I was diagnosed with severe hyperthyroidism, but even with the diagnosis my endocrinologist maintained that stress was at the root of all evil.
Fast forward a few years later, I was a single mom of three school-age children and my doctors would still mention the stress factor. I usually responded to them with laughter because the stress in my life was clearly not going away. It manifested best in my life through insomnia. As one doctor told me, “The stress may not change, but how you deal with it can.”
Typically when I can’t fall asleep, I start checking emails or get on Facebook or read an electronic book. And that leads me to be awake until the wee hours of the morning. Unfortunately, I must be awake and leading a busy household by 6 am. Usually after 24 hours of this cycle, I fall asleep and am able to play a game of catch up with my zzz’s. When I am excessively tired, though, I try to function as if I am not tired by living on coffee and diet caffeinated soda. I learned recently that I’m not the only person in the world who functions like this.
In 2007 when Arianna Huffington was working 18-hours a day to launch The Huffington Post, she was checking her emails one moment and the next moment she was lying in a pool of blood wth a broken cheekbone. She had collapsed from exhaustion.
The recovery from that exhaustion led Huffington to commit to gaining a full night’s sleep, and studying notion of sleep in America. The result of her research is simple yet eye-opening. Americans are in the middle of a sleep crisis.
In her book (ad) The Sleep Revolution, Huffington discusses her plight and what led to her recovery. The book also includes some scientific research about the biology of sleep, understanding our dreams, and how our bodies adjust to sleeping while traveling across time zones.
Huffington’s book also gives suggestions on buying mattresses, the best sleep-friendly hotels, and a sleep-quality questionnaire for readers to asses where they fall on the sleep spectrum. Reading this book and taking an honest evaluation of my lifestyle that is so heavily dependent on technology helped me devise a new system to achieve more sleep. Here’s the schedule I now follow for my nighttime routine.
Aromatherapy – I love essential oils and started using them regularly about three years ago. I use a mist combination of varying oils to enhance my rest daily. I spray my bedroom once or twice a day and, I use a diffuser continuously. My favorite scents are lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, lemongrass, and frankinecese.
Meditation – I practice both guided and individual meditation techniques. Deepak Chopra has an app with guided mediations, and there are plenty others in both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.
Yoga – Stretching always helps relieve the stress and drama of the day. I find yoga poses on YouTube and practice them.
Prayer – Conversation with God always helps me. For me prayer is me talking to God, and meditation is him taking to me. I pray in the morning, in the evening, and several times throughout the day.
Books with pages – I love Kindle. I love reading electronic books on my iPad or listening on Audible. My favorite books are those that are actually read by the author – it feels as if we are sitting down visiting. I had to learn though, that the technology needed to have a time and a place. My bedroom is not the place. If I want to read a few pages of a book before bed, I do so with a real book. I noticed the difference almost instantly. Apparently, it has merit – Ms. Huffington mentioned this at a talk she gave on a recent visit to Dallas.
Music – If I can’t calm my brain, soft music always helps. It helps. Light jazz, R & B ballads, or gospel music help ease the sometimes excessive thoughts I have.
Do Not Disturb and Nightshift Settings – Some days are harder than others when it comes to disconnecting. For that I have Do Not Disturb enabled on my phone from 10 pm – 7 am which means I don’t receive any notifications from apps, text messages, and phone calls. If I do use my devices late at night, I use the nightshift setting that uses a screen filter to decrease the harmful blue light that devices emit.
As you can see, this is a work in progress for me so I’m open to other suggestions. How do you rest after a long day?