Humans spend approximately one-third of the lives sleeping. Although the specifics regarding why we sleep are unclear, scientists tend to believe it has something to do with our brains. When we do not get enough sleep, we have difficulty with focus, concentration, and thinking in general. It is recommended that adults sleep seven to nine hours.
Evidently, Americans are not sleeping well. In fact, almost half of all Americans report daytime sleepiness. According to the Sleep Foundation, between 10 and 30 percent of adults struggle with chronic insomnia, with women and older adults are at the greatest risk. Clearly, Americans have a sleeping problem…
Or do they?
Sleep is a personal and highly individualized. Our ancient ancestors did not adhere to externally imposed sleeping guidelines. If they were tired and it was safe to sleep, they slept. Likewise, if they were tired and it was not safe to sleep, they did not sleep. They also did not try to force themselves to sleep because it was a particular time of day. Our ancestors trusted their bodies to know when it was time to sleep, eat, and move.
If our bodies were wise enough to inform our ancestors back then, could we not assume they will do the same for us today?
Many of us are caught in a web of overthinking wellness and micromanaging our bodies. The truth is, our bodies are always speaking to us. They speak through illness and health, cravings and aversions, physical sensations and gut-instincts. The trick is, we tend to override the messages our bodies give us in favor of listening to our minds dictate the way things “should” be.
I should be sleeping seven to nine hours a night.
I should be sleeping through the night.
I should be able to make it through the day without resting.
Clearly not our bodies!
Certainly, we do need to sleep enough, just like we need to drink enough water or eat enough healthy food. However, how we feel, not a study we read about in a magazine, is the best indicator as to whether or not we sleep sufficiently.
If you are struggling with getting enough rest, speaking with a professional, such as a doctor or nurse who knows you and your medical situation well, is the first step towards sleeping well. There are many tried-and-true sleeping tips that most people know well.
· Create a soothing bedtime routine and establish a regular sleep schedule
· Make sure your bed is comfortable and only used for sleep and sex
· Sleep in a dark, slightly cool room
· Avoid stimulating screens like computers and cell phones at least an hour before bed
· Make sure your daytime habits do not disturb your sleep: exercise, avoid caffeine, etc.
However, there are other things we can do to ensure we rest well, regardless of whether or not we sleep!
· Take time to think during the day. We often move so fast throughout our day that we don’t have time to think! For many of us, bedtime is the first opportunity we have time to be with our thoughts. Is it any wonder our minds race when we are trying to sleep? Instead of ignoring your thoughts throughout the day, make a point to spend time with them. Mindfulness meditation and reflective journaling are two methods I and many of my clients have found helpful for regularly dialoguing with their minds.
· Set aside time to worry. Worrying keeps many people up at night. If you tend to worry a lot, set aside fifteen minutes specifically to worry. Make sure you set a timer. Worry to your heart’s discontent for those fifteen minutes! However, when your timer goes off, it is time to stop worrying and move on with your day. If worries begin to creep up, write them down. You can worry about them during the next day’s scheduled worry-time!
· Rest. When you are trying to sleep, don’t worry about whether you sleep or not. (You can worry about whether you are sleeping or not during your designated worry-time!) Sometimes it is the pressure we put on ourselves to sleep, not the lack of sleep itself, that makes our inability to fall asleep feel so unbearable. And, of course, the anxiety we create around not sleeping further keeps us awake. Even if you do not sleep, quiet your body and calm your mind by focusing on your breath, listening to relaxing music, or trying a guided meditation for sleep.
· Because sleep is unique to each individual, it may be helpful to take a deeper look at what is going on and create a plan of action. If you’re interested in learning more, let’s schedule a time to talk. Please accept my offer for a complimentary consultation. I’d like to hear more about what is going on and discuss how yoga can help.