Stress...Disrupted Sleep...Stress...Disrupted Sleep

19 Mar 2012

Posted by karen
karen's picture

Can't sleep⇔stress: the age-old "chicken and egg" story.

Two clients this last week told me they had trouble sleeping. There are nights when I too have less-than-stellar "rest."  And when that happens? It's frustrating, can lead to fatigue, affects our quality of life - and relationships.
Sleep is anything but a luxury:  it's vital for our immune system, supports growth and healing, helps to regulate our blood sugar levels, feeds our brain function - and the beat goes on...
Is this problem of stress-anxiety a greater issue in this generation than those previous? If you watched last week's Age of Anxiety on CBC's Doc Zone it appears  so. Pharmaceutical prescriptions for anxiety (and its bedfellow, sleeplessness) are at unprecedented proportions. Why are we so stressed that sleep evades us?? The reasons are myriad: a topic reserved for another post.
Until then, rather than burying our head under the pillow and hoping we'll nap a few hours before the alarm, let's look at some sleep enhancers.

Action plan:

-- engage in relaxing activity before bedtime. Reading may help - provided it isn't study material for tomorrow's work or school, a thriller novel or related to a stimulating project. Handwork, like cross-stitch or knitting, can help mellow your mind too. (From experience, try to set it down before you're deaing with a challenging new pattern or recovering dropped stitches.)
-- this may seem obvious, but eliminate caffeine and other stimulants from your diet - at least after noon.  Some people may swear by "the glass of red before bed" to ease you off to sleep. Perhaps so, although the effects of too much alcohol may cause insomnia later in the night - plus the stress it adds to your liver.
-- Bach Flower Remedies are homeopathicaly prepared flower extracts - the label on the Rescue Remedy bottle offers "comfort and reassurance to help you cope in balancing life's ups and downs." Recommended dosage: a few drops when under stress or tension. 
-- a couple supplements that may help before bed: melatonin, the hormone that keeps our body in sync with the seasonal balance between day and night, light and dark; or inositol (one of the B vitamins) that has a mild anti-anxiety effect.
-- an Epsom salts bath and a cup of peppermint or chamomile tea can put you in a mellow mood for sleep. 
-- mineral deficiencies, e.g. magnesium, potassium and calcium, can sometimes trigger insomnia. Foods like sesame seeds, pecans and bananas contain these minerals and support the nervous system.
-- some sources may not agree but a protein snack before bed might be just what you need: yogurt (with or without fruit), nuts, or a piece of cheese on a healthy cracker (if you're okay with dairy). This may save you from waking up later to wander to the kitchen for that banana and yogurt - I've tried that too, with positive results - but why go through the disruption if you don't have to?!
-- exercise during the day - get your heart rate up, sweat a little, a lot is even better. Make your body work - get tired out. This should help your body be happy to crawl into bed and zonk out. A caution though, about exercising too late in the evening. Allow enough time to mover from overdrive to low gear. (From experience: adrenaline after a 9:00-10:00 p.m. swimming class was a recipe for a (too) late bedtime.)
-- having your bedroom cool and dark contributes to a better sleep - some people sleep better with a "white noise", e.g. a fan whirring in the room. Maybe it'll work for you.
-- go to bed before you're overtired, e.g. if at 10:00 p.m. you're feeling ready to go to sleep, then time to turn out the light. Reading a book or watching television for another hour may tip you over the edge into not being able to fall asleep.
-- when you wake up in the night, concentrate on belly breathing  - breathing in slowly through your nose, then slowly releasing the air from your belly through partially open lips. This is a good habit to develop during your waking hours - it reduces tension in your neck and shoulders.
-- have a glass of water on your bedside table in case you wake up thirsty
-- meditation, prayer and other practices that nurture our spiritual health are vital for help with stress. (From experience: prayer has more power than counting sheep.) 
-- a short nap in the day helps for catch-up. My Mom (God rest her soul) did this only occasionally - probably the reason why my Dad snapped the photo below! 
-- a thankful attitude can contribute positively to our stress-sleep conundrum. Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection poses the theory we go to sleep burdened by thoughts of what we didn't get, or didn't get done that day and wake up to the "reverie" of lack...."hungry for more joy....we're malnourished (my emphasis, not hers) from a lack of gratitude." I'm not suggesting we be naive about nutritious and lifestyle changes to ensure we get our sleep. But I am suggesting we "live grateful". For the blessings we experience, for the sufficiency we have to choose the way how we think - and deal - with our circumstances.

Fast-track Bedtime Summary:

-- have a small snack
-- prepare restful bedroom conditions
-- have a warm bath, read a while, breathe deeply
-- journal your thanksgivings before turning out the light
Good night and sleep well, my friend.


Kika@embracingimperfection's picture

Great list of tips, Karen, and I like how you added the "from experience" parts. I don't want to just hear from "the experts" but from real people and what worked in their lives. My husband and youngest child have ongoing sleep struggles but my daughter is doing much better now with the help of calcium/magnesium chewables and a "super sleep" formula before bed. We also keep a snack and water by her bed for when she awakes in the night.
Against all the "rules" my husband often wishes we had a tv in our bedroom since he always falls asleep watching news but then once he gets up and walks to our room, he is unable to get back to sleep!
I am waiting for Brenes book to come from the library but the waiting list is long:) I'm sure it will arrive at the perfect moment.

fuck me's picture

What a stuff of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable familiarity regarding unexpected emotions.

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karen's picture

Discovering the sleep solution isn't easy. Glad to hear you've found the right combination for your daughter. I always appreciate hearing from you! 

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