A few years ago I did something that I had not done in a very long time. I set a New Year’s resolution – getting a good night’s sleep regularly.
Sounds trivial, but this is something that I had struggled with for more years than I cared to count. I had all but dismissed the idea that sleeping well was even possible for a person with my responsibilities. I had settled that family stressors in combination with work stressors made restful sleep a necessary sacrifice. I talked with friends with similar struggles: Did they sleep well? Nope. “Oh good.”, I thought, “I can stop stressing about my lack of sleep, this is totally normal.”
So what changed for me on that fateful New Years? Over the Christmas break, I experienced deep restful sleep night after night after night. I rediscovered parts of myself that I liked. I had more energy, more patience, more awareness… and I experienced more joy. So that my New Year’s resolution surfaced from a deep desire to create the context where I could experience this more consistently. Restful sleep was key to unlocking that potential for me.
What followed was a lengthy set of experiments aimed at getting me there… I also did a whole lot of reading about sleep along the way. It took me 8 months to get a good night’s sleep again and even more work to get that experience more regularly – so there are no quick fixes here… that said, I wanted to share the top three principles that helped me based on all that I tried and learned:
- Sleep is about sending clear signals to your body that it’s ok to relax. After that, you can trust your body to do the right thing. You’ll need to figure out what’s right for your body (e.g. no screen time, aromatherapy, regular bed time, music, etc.) . That can take lots of experimenting to figure out – but stick with it and it will pay off.
- If you are in bed and “not sleeping”, you need to get up and do something calming outside of your bed. Return to your bed only when you are feeling sleepy. Creating an association between laying down in your bed and sleep is a powerful somatic* practice to cultivate over time – trust me on this one.
- Get your head, your heart, and your gut better aligned. For many, bedtime is the only time in our day where we are able to work through our candid thoughts and feelings. Our bodies are therefore unable to relax because there’s important work to be done before it can rest. We need to find a better place to work this out: take a walk at lunch; get to your yoga mat for a good stretch; meditate; journal; connect with a good friend… even work with a therapist, mentor, or coach… invest your time (outside of bedtime) to develop and support your internal health and integrity.
For me, this was a long and fruitful journey and the gift of a good night’s sleep made all the effort worthwhile… I learned a lot along the way – in many ways I’m still learning. If you are tapping into your own desire to have a restful night’s sleep, I hope that this post will be a signal of encouragement and support along the way. Go there… my fellow sleep seeker… and trust that your journey will be worth the effort.
*somatic – relating to the body, especially as distinct from the mind