Sleepless Society

Sleep tips and resources in times of stress and worry.

In a healthy environment where there is good food, work and income, exercise and rest, nature and very few worries, a sound sleep should arrive easily every night. Many of those conditions aren't available to those participating in today's fast paced, never-have-enough social environment.

Sleep should be there for us to rest and re-energize for the following day, but it's not so easy for many. I have had my share of sleep problems, mostly when younger. In my experiences thoughts are the cause of toss and turn nights. Kicking around some upsetting or puzzling situation, past, present or ahead can be a whirring circle that does not want to stop.

These are the solutions to achieving adequate sleep that have worked well for me.

Trying to sleep has the opposite effect. I quit trying to go to sleep! Trying does not work!

Acceptance plays a big role in life once again. Accepting that a restless night is not be a big problem takes a great big load off my mind and quite often it's possible to carry on normally the next day with just that little bit of sleep. And even better, realizing that this is note a dire situation will so often result in a restful sleep just a bit later.

Counting very slow deep breaths is good because it is healthy and relaxing. Often it is difficult to get past 4 or 5 because that 'thing' keeps returning and then the turmoil is restarted.

Problems or worries need to be shut down completely at bedtime. I can think about that stressful experience - or I can sleep. It's a choice, sort of. It is a known fact that I cannot think of two things at the same time so a change of thoughts in order with recurring turbulences.

But changing thoughts to something pleasant and peaceful, real or imaginary, or dull and stationary can really work. A peaceful walk by a calm lake with still waters, or a speck on the wall can do it.

Yet holding on to calming thoughts may not always be easy and the worries can keep intruding if they are strong.

It might be necessary to concentrate on a topic that is not serene but not worrisome either, along with a change in physical position to make this work. It almost always helps me to shut down the agitating windmill completely when I get out of bed and do an easy crossword, watch some dull quiet TV, with or without a light snack. Even 1-2 hours lost from bed at 2am seems unacceptable at first, but if a solid sleep returns for the remaining few hours it's worth the effort to climb out of a warm bed. Often an hour's sleep just before rising can be very deep and satisfying.

Quietly relaxing in the latter part of the evening is most helpful in preparing for a restful sleep. Daily exercise, physical or mental, is part of a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately it can be very stimulating if done approaching bedtime and might create a wide awake state that will not unwind easily. Watching violent TV movies or upsetting news is not the right preparation either.

A soothing alcoholic nightcap relaxes but normally results in waking up a few hours later, and an alcohol induced sleep is not a relaxed sleep.

Note: This is not meant to be advice to others. It works well for me but underlying causes could be very serious and complicated. Professional help should always be a consideration as with all medical problems.

Other resources

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep has a series of articles:
Sleep: A Dynamic Activity
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
What Does Sleep Do For Us?
Dreaming and REM Sleep
Sleep and Circadian Rhythms
Sleep and Disease
Sleep Disorders
The Future
Tips for a Good Night's Sleep

The Mayo Clinic: You may not be able to control or eliminate all of the factors that interfere with your sleep, but you can create an environment and adopt habits that encourage a more restful night. Try these suggestions if you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep: 10 tips for better sleep.

Other Self-help posts here at S-F