Sleep is essential to our health generally, our sanity in particular. Interrogators know, if you want to break someone down, deprive them of sleep. I didn't appreciate how important sleep was until I became sleep deprived myself about six years ago. The anxiety that fed my insomnia that fed my anxiety drove me to my doctor's office. Surely something was very wrong with my thyroid or maybe I had a brain tumor.
After a complete workup that took two days and many little tubes of blood I met with my medical specialist. With unforgettable kindness he asked what was going on in my life. As I ticked off about five pretty high stress events, I could see where he was going with this, and I didn't like it. He said, "Well, that would do it for me!" So the good news was my brain and thyroid were fine, the not so good news…it was all in my head.
No, it couldn't be! I was a psychologist for God's sake! Wouldn't I know if stress was making me sick? Turns out, if you are overwhelmed, even if you are a qualified mental health professional, you are often the last to know. A humbling lesson; it's the frog in the pot syndrome (a story for a future post).
ANYWAY… For a couple of weeks I took a sleep medication to get my sleep back on track. Then I got a crash course on sleep hygiene, learned how to breathe to calm down my anxiety and took a serious look at what I could change in my life to allow a better balance. These are lessons I learn over and over again and now pass on to my clients. For really serious sleep troubles I use cognitive behavioral therapy, the best non-medication treatment for insomnia.
Here are a few quick tips to improve the quality of your sleep:
- Only use your bed for sleep, sex and reading really easy stuff; no TV!
- Create a soothing bedroom that engages all five senses.
- After the sun sets keep lights low, mimicking a camp fire.
- Have a before-bedtime ritual, such as washing up, putting on pajamas, stretching, prayers, light reading, lights out.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time (within half an hour) every day.
- Exercise but not within four hours of bedtime.
- Remember to breathe!
Recommended Reading… A Good Night's Sleep, by a couple of smart guys at Harvard Medical School