What do to When you Can’t Sleep

by Liisa Kyle, Ph.D. on 10/17/2012

We all know sleep is important for our health and well-being.  Yet more we have going on, the more elusive a good night’s sleep can become.  the more successful we become, the higher the risk of insomnia.  As a DaVinci — a smart, creative person juggling many ideas, projects and talents — you’ve got a lot going on.  We tend to have busy brains…and sometimes it’s difficult for us to turn them off at night.  Or sometimes we crash, exhausted, only to wake up in the middle of the night, our monkey minds racing and fully alert.

The first thing to know is that occasional insomnia is perfectly natural and no cause for alarm.   Especially if you are under stress or grieving or are at a ‘certain time of life’, your sleep is likely to be affected.

The worse thing to do when you have trouble sleeping is to start to fret about the fact that you’re not sleeping. (“Oh no!  I’ve got this big thing tomorrow and I need to be fresh and rested to be my best and now I can’t sleep and the whole thing’s going to be a disaster!”)  If this sounds like you, the best thing you can do is to catch yourself — laugh at yourself if possible — and to remind yourself of a few truths:  First, yes, a good night’s sleep is important and yet you are perfectly able to function on less sleep from time to time.  Sure you’d prefer to be well-rested for your big event — but if you don’t, the impact of your sleep-deprived state is not likely to be detectable to anyone else.  You might be aware you’re not at your best, but others are unlikely to notice anything amiss.

Same thing goes when you wake up in the middle of the night.  Did you know that, until this century, the natural human sleep pattern was to sleep for a few hours, get up in the middle of the night for a few hours, then return to sleep until morning?  Apparently, it used to be common that people would sleep a bit, get up to tend to chores or family matters — or pray — or even socialize — then sleep some more. Here’s a terrific article summarizing the evidence of this natural two-part sleep pattern.

Personally, I find this reassuring.  Waking up in the middle of the night is not a big deal.  It’s  actually ‘normal’ for us humans.  There’s no reason to lie in bed, tossing and turning.  It’s better to get up for a while.  I actually look forward to middle-of-the-night insomnia now…as an excuse to get up and curl up with whatever novel I’m reading.  The house is quiet.  The phone is not ringing.  There are no interruptions.  It’s a glorious, peaceful time.

Here’s one caution, though:  If you do wake up in the middle of the night, avoid the temptation to fire up your computer or television or other bright screen.  The unnatural light source tricks your body into thinking it’s morning already and then (a) you won’t get back to sleep and (b) you’re messing with your circadian rhythms.

As well, you probably don’t want to use this period to work…unless you want to stay up until dawn and beyond.  Besides — don’t you spend enough of your week working?   Why not use this ‘middle of the night’ time as a treat for yourself?

If you wanted, you could use this middle of the night ‘awake’ phase as a way of having more balance in your life.  You could use it to do things you love that you have time fitting into your busy schedule.  You could use it to:

* engage in your favorite hobbies

* nourish your mind (e.g. reading, journaling, listening to music, crossword puzzles, sudoku, jigsaw puzzles)

* indulge in simple pleasures

* attend to your body (e.g. gentle stretching and physical relaxation)

* engage in your spiritual practices

* try some meditation techniques

* do some personal processing (e.g. write in your journal, make gratitude lists)

About the latter.  Is there is something on your mind that is keeping you up or disrupting your sleep?  If you’re grappling with insomnia, ask yourself:  What’s going on?  What’s affecting my sleep?  Write down your answers.

Through my coaching clients, I’ve noticed that insomnia usually results from one or more of the following:

1.  Fear & Anxiety

What are you afraid of?  What are worried about?

Here are three techniques to deal with fear.  Here are seven more.

2.  Guilt, Regret & other Burdens of the Past

Sometimes things in the past affect our present day sleep.  If this is happening to you,here are ways to process these unhelpful burdens.  Here are ways to overcome ‘coulda woulda shoulda’ thinking.

3.  Details

Especially when we’re juggling a million things, it’s easy to get caught up in all the moving parts.  If it’s disrupting your sleep, here are some suggestions:

* make ‘to do’ lists so you know everything is handled

* keep a pen and pad by your bed.  If any ideas or ‘to do’s’ occur to you at night, jot them down.

* remind yourself  of the Big Picture.  Yes this big event you’re fretting about is a big event.  And it is small potatoes relative to your entire life/the planet/the universe.  Your mission is not to alter life as we know it.  Your mission is to do your best with what you have.   To the extent you can put things in perspective, the calmer you’ll be and the better you’re sleep.

One more caution:  If you are having difficulty falling asleep, do yourself a favor by avoiding chemical aids.  It’s such a tempting option:  Oh, something’s wrong so I’ll take a pill for it.  But sleep medications are fraught with side effects and health risks.  They are dangerous when combined with pretty much any other substance.  Worse, the more you use them, the less effective sleep aids become…so you end up taking higher dosages with commensurately higher risks…while you experience less and less effective results. (How many dead celebrities have left us too soon, thanks to these products?)

If you want to learn more about ways to improve your sleep, here are some resources.

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What’s helped you deal with insomnia or sleep disruptions?  We’d love to hear from you in the comment box below.

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Are you struggling with too many talents, skills, ideas? You may have The DaVinci Dilemma™! Find tools, fun quizzes, coaching, inspiration and solutions for multi-talented people at http://www.davincidilemma.com/ .

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