Welcome back, readers! Did you have a good week?
Today, we continue exploring self-care in my “Self Care is for Everyone” series. I hope you got a chance to read the beginning of our series last week. You don’t have to have read it to understand what’s going on, but it would be really cool of you if you did.
Make your way to “The Ultimate Flex” here.
This week, we have to talk about something we all do with varying degrees of success. Something we will all be doing for the rest of our lives and is inescapable. Something that influences your mood, performance, mental state, and physical wellbeing.
I’m speaking, of course, about sleeping.
You are not Alone
I have a tenuous relationship with sleep, personally.
I love the idea of sleep. During any given depressive episode, sleeping is my preferred reality avoidance activity. Sleeping after an arduous day can be the best feeling in the world. The problem comes with the falling asleep part. I can’t always turn my brain off at night. I must think about every problem I’ve ever had and formulate mock solutions. If I manage to get to sleep, my brain will find some reason to wake up during the night. Interrupted sleeping is just the norm in my world.
Does anyone else imagine terrible scenarios just to upset themselves and stress out about things that could never happen? Do you fantasize about driving off bridges or random explosions? Terrible accidents where your special person never comes home? Perhaps you imagine something awful befalling your children and you are helpless to stop it. Do these scary thoughts keep you awake for days on end?
No, just me. Oh.
When I manage to get to sleep, I have some volatile dreams too.
I have “normal” dreams at times. Once, I dreamed that I couldn’t get a story right because I being too rigid. It was a picture book that I couldn’t get the pictures right in and the words weren’t working. My creativity wasn’t flowing right because I was blocking myself. My High School English teacher was very disappointed.
Another time, I was looking for my husband. We were on vacation in a place I’ve never been. There were extravagant gardens and architecture. It looked like someplace in Europe, Greece perhaps. I ran around calling his name, my panic growing stronger every moment. I thought I could hear him calling me back as I darted around corners and various trees. I never found him and ended up crying on what appeared to be a very expensive carpet.
Often, when my dreams are clear and memorable, they are usually nightmarish. I have dreams about being chased by murderers regularly. Other people are getting taken out in terribly violent ways around me and I can do nothing about it. I’m not the victim most of the time, but the murders always happen in front of me. The murderer makes a game out of chasing me and killing the ones I care about.
Happens all the time.
There was one dream where I was shot in the head during a convenience store robbery. I’m not sure how I ended up there, but it was clear as daylight in my head. I felt the shot and felt myself falling, but the dream continued. I watched the robbery continue and the criminal escaping as I was bleeding out on the ground. I think I woke up just after that.
I know that my more violent dreams are manifestations of my anxiety. I’m constantly being pursued and blind-sighted in my dreams and I can recognize those feeling from my waking life. I know how it feels to be under a deadline but unable to get things done. I know the fear and uncertainty of what might happen at work the following day. I can see how my brain would remind me to think about my stressors during the night as well.
Why We Need Good Sleep
I learned about the importance of healthy sleep from my therapist. She told me that the brain works all day to process the things happening around you, but it has to take in more information at the same time. While you are sleeping, your brain has a chance to “catch up” and clean out all the junk that accumulated in your psyche during waking hours. That is what dreams essentially are. Your brain is clearing out the gunk that builds up in your head during the day. Stress, anxiety, problematic thoughts, and other stuff you might need to work through get processed while you sleep.
This is part of why sleep is essential. Your brain needs time to clean house. Otherwise, the gunk gets built up and you can’t think properly. There are physical effects of chronic sleep deprivation. Cardiovascular health can suffer, and the immune system can become compromised easier. When you are sleep-deprived, your body might be fatigued, but your brain is the true victim. Sleep-deprived people can’t use their executive functioning as well as a rested person. The working memory is affected as well. Sleep-deprived people can’t remember things easily. Response times are slower, and people can begin to hallucinate if the deprivation gets bad enough.
Insomnia is a common symptom associated with depression and anxiety. Since the brain is really good at sabotaging itself, being anxious about falling asleep keeps folks awake too. You know, worrying about not getting enough sleep doesn’t let you get enough sleep. Imagine that! There is also the fun tendency to wake up in the middle of the night to worry. Nighttime is a great time for your personal demons to come knocking and remind you that you are a garbage person. 2 am seems to be the optimal time for me to take a refresher course in “I’m terrible and no one will ever love me 101.”
Tips for Better Sleep
Having good sleep hygiene is important for busy people. We deserve to rest and your body will let you know when it’s’ had enough of your foolishness. The body and mind will start to shut down and behave abnormally when they aren’t cared for correctly. Here is a couple of ways that you can start improving your sleep hygiene for better mental health.
- Have a night routine—You always hear about having a morning routine and how crucial it is for some folks to have a good day. Why should bedtime be any different?
- Sleep only in the bedroom—Having a designated resting area helps to signal to your brain that sleepy time is approaching. Don’t work in bed.
- Darkness is your friend—Keep your sleeping space free from lights that might startle you out of your sleep. Keep televisions off and devices charging in another room if possible
- Get some exercise—Wearing yourself out is still an effective way to get better sleep. Getting a workout in during the day can help that nighttime rest a little deeper.
You Can Sleep Better!
Improved sleep leads to improved mental health as well. Using these good sleep habits can go a long way toward getting a better night’s sleep. However, if nothing helps after two weeks, it may be time to speak with a doctor. Sleep apnea and chronic insomnia are very common in society. Some doctors specialize in sleep disorders and can help you feel more rested.
Remember, you deserve to rest. You deserve to sleep and to sleep well. Self-care takes many forms and sleeping is high on the list. Take the time to care for your sleep hygiene and build better bedtime habits.
What does your nighttime routine look like? How do you wind down? What helps keeps you awake at night? Or keeps you asleep? Let me know in the comments below.
Pleasant dreams, friends.