When quality sleep is just not an option

When quality sleep is just not an option

You are not lost on me, new mamma with 3 children under the age of 6.  I get that quality sleep is not going to be something that you have access to at this time. Quite frankly, you are not who I am talking to right now.

Your nights have turned into days and days into nights.  You are in the trenches. When one child has finally fallen asleep at your breast, another child has woken from a nightmare.  You are exhausted, overwhelmed and doing your very best to keep it together. You are not feeling fantastic, because you are not supposed to during this beautiful and challenging season of your life.

It is all about damage control at this phase, to minimize the cost to the body due to all of those missed hours of restorative sleep.  So you rest, when you can. It used to piss me off…big time when people told me to nap when my daughter was sleeping. I would sarcastically think to myself (and sometimes if I was especially exhausted) say out loud “Nap? To help my exhaustion? I never thought about that?”

My nervous system and tendencies in behaviours do not work like that.  I tried, believe me, I tried. With babe napping beside me in bed, I would turn on the white noise, shut the blackout curtains and begin to deep breathing.  The whole time, waiting for my daughter to wake up as my mind spun with thoughts of all the things I needed to do. In those rare occasions, when I was able to let go, my daughter would wake up just as I was about to drift off.  Torture, true and utter torture. So trying to “nap when my daughter slept” caused me more stress than support.

So… to my sleep deprived, exhausted new moms, I am asking that you create space to rest.  I don’t mean sitting in front of the TV watching back to back episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, I suggest lying on the floor, hands on belly taking 10 deep breaths or sitting down with a cup of tea and calling a friend or having a warm breath with Lavender Essential oils.  These 5, 10, 15-minute rest sessions will go a very long way in ensuring that the cost to your body from those sleep deprived nights is as minimal as possible.

As a side note: To be clear, I have absolutely no issue with back to back episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, it just does not count as rest time.  Sanity? Yes! Rest No!

Stop telling yourself you can’t sleep

Stop telling yourself you can’t sleep

For the past 5 years, I have been telling my family, friends, social media followers and even the Starbucks barista that my sleep sucks. The truth is that I really have not fully recovered from mommy’s insomnia, you know the condition where your body is so used to being woken up in the middle of the night that even when the whole family is fast asleep, you are still waking up. So frigging frustrating.

Over the years, I have tried many things to assist with my sleep challenges, meditations, yoga sequences, breathing techniques, essential oils, acupuncture, every possible sleep supplement, medications -yes this Naturopathic doctor was on Trazadone for a period to time.  You name it I tried it, all with so, so results, often working at first then a return to that annoying middle of the night waking.  Somewhere between trying high doses of melatonin and an array of essentials oil blends, I developed the belief that I was not a good sleeper.  It had become my unconscious mantra.

Then it dawned on me if our beliefs become our thoughts and our thoughts become our reality is it possible that a contributing factor to my sleep issue is actually this belief about my sleep?  Of course! This is true for every aspect of our health, so why would sleep be any different?

So now when I witness myself and patient’s believing, talking or manifesting about their crappy sleep, I stop that trance in its track and re-frame it.  This has been especially important for middle of the night waking, when the very thing we need to fall back asleep is a calm nervous system and instead, we are pumping out cortisol, in place of melatonin because of our anxieties about not being able to fall back to sleep.  

A simple re-frame of thought to:  This is a calm, quiet, peaceful opportunity for me to rest, breath and move energy through my body is not only relaxing it also provides the message that our body, mind, and soul need to let go and move back into the sleep cycle.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still a stickler for sleep hygiene practices and have my favourites when it comes to sleep supplements but the biggest impact happens with a simple reset in our beliefs.

Put your phone to bed

Put your phone to bed

I have a love-hate relationship with social media.  Full disclosure, at the time of writing this blog, I am a 46-year-old woman, so that puts my birth year in the early 70’s.  Just so you’re super clear

the technology in my house when I was growing up was a rotary phone, an Atari tennis pong game and a TV that you had to get up to change the station.

It absolutely blows my mind, how much things have progressed around technology and that is so amazing and also exhausting.   I do struggle with excessive phone checking and the fear of missing out with my social media accounts.  I am that person who puts up an Instagram post and then has to use all my will to not keep checking if I got likes or comments.

Perhaps it’s my age, maybe my insecurities or just the way things are but you have to be so aware and so disciplined around how much time, energy, emotions you are going to give to technology.  

This is especially important when the sun goes down.  Okay just like we know cheesecake before bed is not fantastic for our sleep, we get it looking at our phones in bed is going to impact our ability to get and stay into a restorative sleep cycle. 

I know this, you know this so why the heck are we still doing this! So this is the time in the blog where I could list 5 tips to help you stop checking your phone at night.  Let’s not do that, because you, me and the world started seeing those tips years ago and we are still not changing this behaviour.  So instead, let’s talk about what you are getting when you are looking at your phone

Pro:

  • connection with others
  • immediate gratification
  • relief from the pressures/realities of your life  

Con:

  • stimulated (at a time we need to be calming)
  • lost time
  • feelings of inadequacy
  • feelings of FOMO
  • disruptive physical symptoms
  • disconnection from my partner, spouse, kids etc…
  • anxiety/depression
  • compulsion

So friends, I am feeling pretty clear that the con’s list is out weight the pro’s list so let’s take this a step further.  How can we can those same things in our pro’s list without using our phones?  Hmmm, I can think about something -sex, a good book, a bath.  Yep, each one of those offers some or all of the positive feelings, and so much more without the yucky side effects that looking at your phone before bed has. 

Am I asking you to drop social media? Absolutely not!  I love my IG account almost as much as I love my morning coffee but I am asking you to take a hard look at what you are giving up and the huge cost nighttime scrolling is having on your sleep, relationships and overall health.

Sleep is everything!

Sleep is everything!

Trying to lose weight, be more patient with your kids, strengthen your immune system or all of the above? Folks, it can’t happen without restorative sleep.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many patients come into my practice with lofty health goals, they will spend much of the visit sharing their obstacles to reaching these dreams.

“I can’t resist my afternoon sugar cravings”

“Every time I start an exercise program I get sick, 2 days later”

“I am eating well, drinking water and taking supplements but I still can’t have a morning bowel movement”

I think patients are surprised when I listen to these frustrations and immediately jump to a conversation about sleep.  This is because, after years of practice I realize quality sleep is the starting line for so many of our health goals and compromised sleep will absolutely interfere with our ability to achieve what is rightly ours when it comes to health.

Obviously, there is a mental/emotional component to this challenge, who is not going to grab for an afternoon macho latte and a choc chip muffin  (or in my case sour cream and onion Pringles) when they are about to go into a round table meeting on next fiscal years projections on toilet paper sales? How else are you going to get through that on only 6 hours of interrupted sleep?

But what most people don’t realize is that sleep deprivation also has physical consequences causing our bodies to be essentially working against us and our health goals.

Without restorative sleep, your body’s cortisol levels are unregulated resulting in increased inflammation, weight gain, frequent illness just to name a few.  The body needs quality sleep to effectively eliminate toxins, heal damaged cells, maintain cyclical hormone pulses and

What if your inability to see results with weight loss, completing that 5km and reducing your bloating had less to do about food, fitness and fibre and more to do about quality sleep?

Our choices during the day impact our sleep at night

Our choices during the day impact our sleep at night

Of course, it does, isn’t that super obvious?  

But, how many of us go upstairs, wash our face, brush our teeth, kiss the kiddies one last time and think okay now it’s my turn to get some sleep.  You get into bed, close your eyes and drift off into…thinking about every possible thing that you need to do. From getting your daughter’s birthday party invitations out on time to the pros and cons of cutting your hair into that new trendy bob or to a full on conversation (in your head) to your boss about why you deserve that promotion at work.

Or how about this scenario, you do drift off when you get into bed but on the dot every…single…night, you wake up at 3:00 am wide awake with the same busy mind just at a different time.

If you’re really lucky, you get both of the above scenarios when you hit the sack.

So why, please tell me why, is this happening?

It actually has less to do with your choices at night and more to do with your choices through the day.

The body actually craves boring, it works best when in rhythm and the only way we can stay in our intended internal cycles is if we provide the necessary cues through the day.   Meaning we need to choose wisely if we want to keep the body in balance. This is especially important as it relates to sleep.

Okay so no shit, if we drink a double espresso at 7:30 pm, our sleep is most likely going to suck (unless you are one of those few people, like my husband, who can have a cup of coffee and 15 minutes later be snoring beside me) but what about other things that could be impacting your sleep.

If we are running on high to low and then back to high blood sugar levels through the day, do you think that you will just go to sleep and magically the body will regulate?  Perhaps the middle of the night waking is your blood sugar dropping, causing your cortisol levels to rise to override your melatonin, therefore, waking you up? Pretty technical but that’s what’s happening.

What about stress levels? if you have been running from or fighting a bear (replace the word bear with a terrible boss) right up to the time you are about to go to bed, your body -the nervous system and adrenal glands are in full action mode.  This means that you’re pumping out white blood cells that are increasing inflammation, your muscles are contracted so ready to take on the danger in question, your heart is pumping faster and your mind is in overdrive. In this state all day long, your body won’t just relax because you put some lavender on your pillow.

Digestion gets a say here too, what? How do my bowel moments have anything to do with sleep?  Well, it’s pretty simple, if the body has not fully digested and eliminated the food from the day, then your intestine will be a busy bee doing that job at night.  Just because you have turned off the lights does not mean you have turned off your digestion.

I think you get the point friends, the quality and quantity of your sleep you are currently getting is absolutely reflected in the choices we make through the day.  So if you are struggling with sleep, perhaps being mindful about your mid snack and your all-day negative self-talk before reaching for the melatonin.