There’s a handful of symptoms that seem to be universal to anyone going through chronic pain, chronic illness, mental illness, and detoxing/titrating. One of the biggest contenders is sleep.
I’m no exception. This time last year was a constant fight with my body and brain on getting at least two hours of uninterrupted, and symptom free (the sweat some nights looked like a took a shower).
Right now I’m in a coasting zone that’s teetering on positive recovery, yet could effect my hard earned 6 strait hours a night. Like everything else, too many professionals try to umbrella a general average to all. Sleep is one of the basic needs in which regulates so much in our beaten down brains and bodies. What have I been doing to find a balance?
When I feel I’m not getting enough, I…
- Break up with my Fitbit. Seeing day after day that I have a bunch of red (awake) where there should be peaceful blue feeds my unconscious panic. That whole time was restless? I become too obsessed with that being an accurate scale on what sleep is right for me, without questioning how I felt matching the data. Stop tracking your sleeping pattern. Create your own by grabbing a journal at the Dollar Store. Write down when you wake up, how long, when you fell asleep. Journaling (in general) helps me figure out what I did in the past 48-72 hours that was either taxing, or a pattern I can switch.
- Stop chasing sleep. I got three hours. Great. Wide awake. Is it 4am? Might as well get up and start my day. Is it only midnight? Sit up and either plan out what I can do today, or write out every damn thought running through my head. Sometimes the non-stimulating activity causes me to drift back for another hour. Point is: constantly thinking I -have- to get those 8 hours or I’m a goner did nothing for me but cause an anxiety loop. Sure, I wasn’t the brightest bulb the next day, but I still got through the day.
- Change all the brightness settings on my devices. All of my devices no longer use the back-light (nighttime mode 24/7). My screens are dimmed to the lowest setting. I don’t know if the studies are anecdotal, but since doing this, the hypersensitivity in my eyes aren’t working as hard, and my brain picks up more natural cues it’s day/night.
- Create a good hygiene habitual bedtime routine. I go to bed the same time every night, tired or not. Lights are off, phone/tablet are down. Sometimes I need some sort of background noise (with timer) to keep my hypervigilance from picking up on every air bubble in the pipes. The room and I are at comfortable temperature, it’s completely dark, and doing breathing exercises help if I’m still a bit too wired. During the day, it’s two days strait of AM decaf, then one cup of coffee. The less stimulating food and drink I can consume, the better.
- Avoid napping as much as possible. If your life is on your terms, or if you’re a shift worker, this may not apply. If a goal is to be awake for at least 12 from the moment you get out of bed, avoid the naps. Sometimes it’s habit that you need to reset for the nighttime. Napping isn’t a no-no: if I absolutely cannot keep my head up, I’ll lay down and put a time on for 40-60minutes. That was hard at first, but after a few months of doing this, my body wakes itself up after 40 minutes.
- Take an OTC. This is my last resort where it’s been a significant amount of time, and my day-to-day is severely effected. I use non-addictive things such as anti-nausea meds. I use the lowest dose possible.
When I feel I’m getting too much, I…
- Open the curtains as soon as the sky lights up. One thing that helps my brain realize sleep is over is to open up the curtains as soon as there’s natural light. Extra points is to keep them open. Keeping a room naturally lit keeps my brain reminded that sleep comes when the sun goes down.
- Delay the nap, or avoid it all together. Same thing with not enough sleep goes with too much. In the case of too much, it’s most likely a habit forming of a unconscious defense mechanism. What am I trying to avoid? If it’s not mental health and pain related, I’ll never deny naps: 40-60 minutes max.
- Get outside, or get moving. Even if it’s a push, I push. My go-to is exercise, preferably outside for a minimum of 30 minutes. If that isn’t possible, I do something that helps appease anxiety. Cleaning is a great go-to, so are small errands I’ve been putting off. I noticed that if it’s mood related, harder exercise isn’t ideal. I always prioritize sleep over anything since that’s when the body recovers. If it’s a 50/50 split on what symptoms I’m dealing with, I’d rather be on the safe side and rest.
- Resting is not sleeping. I know I mistake equating rest as sleep, and vice versa. I’m currently learning this, and yes, some days I fail. That’s alright, with anything I’ll get it eventually. Sitting up and doing something engaging but non-stimulating (a video game, a series) will keep me awake, but doesn’t engage any muscle groups or my stress.
- Review my good hygiene habitual bedtime routine. This is why journaling is helpful. Have I been pushing too hard? Did something out of my control trigger something? Has my type of food changed? It’s impressive what screws with your sleep. Play detective and figure out what you can tweak.
- Don’t take extra stimulants. Taking in an extra coffee or two (or in my case mochas – add extra sugar) only gives me a short-term splurge, then an inevitable crash. I try eating a light snack with some ice water instead. If it’s not blood sugar, I’m probably bored. Get up, move around, come back. Repeat.