Our relationship with sleep

As a child I loved going to bed early. I loved waking the next day feeling rested and ready for whatever was happening that day. Simple.

But as with many things, as we get older, we tend to make it harder and more complex for ourselves. I started staying up late in my early 20s because that’s what other people did, that was (so-called) part and parcel of life as a young adult, living out of home for the first time and ‘free’ to do whatever we wanted to.

Staying up late requires fighting sleep, and so I would need something to help me fight it, be it sugar, alcohol or TV, or all three. These things then lead to actual sleep issues, as I found when I would try and fall asleep, I was so overtired and wired from the food and drink and entertainment, it was horrendous.

As we now have technology and electricity on tap 24/7, we can easily fight the natural cycle for us to wind down and sleep. Poor sleep can impact our health in many ways, including chronic health conditions and poor psychological health[1].

When I was ready to admit the way I was approaching sleep was not working, I wanted it to be better without me changing anything. But I now see that it could have been (and ended up being) a simple process of eliminating things that I got more honest with myself about that did not actually support me and my sleep. For example, watching TV close to bedtime I realised did not suit me, as I would think about the show too much and was unable to fall asleep easily. Drinking alcohol left me feeling like the whole room was spinning and so I could not fall asleep. Sugar was another one that I still notice impacts my sleep, in that I have observed that every time I eat sugary foods (particularly at night), I have nightmares and wake in the middle of the night feeling unsettled and it can be difficult to return to a deep sleep.

Writing this out, we can see how all the things we do during the day can impact our sleep. Bringing it back to the simplicity of going to bed when our body is telling us it needs rest, and not overriding or ignoring this, is a wonderful feeling. And when we wake feeling more rested, we reach far less for caffeine and sugar to keep us going, and then our sleep that evening can be even more rejuvenating.

We cannot escape the truth that everything is connected, including how we live during the day and how then we put ourselves to bed that evening. The fact of the matter is, our body needs sleep and does not survive without it. We can think we can outsmart it but even as kids we know we cannot.

We can be scientists and be in observation of life, and in that note what happens after we eat, drink and do certain activities. With the factual results at hand, we can then make small but oh so powerful changes that leave us less foggy and less vague, more joyful, settled, and feeling like ourselves again.

We can make it simple by starting to be more aware and observe what reactions occur from the actions we take. For example, noting what it feels like in our body when eating sugar? Does it feel racy or thirsty or restless? What does it feel like in our body when we watch a lot of TV? Does it feel overtired, lethargic, restless, mind racing? And how do these feelings in our body then influence our behaviours? For example, do we get irritable or snappy at those around us? Not wanting to go to work or talk to people?

No need to give ourselves a hard time, just start simply with honesty about what works for you and what doesn’t, and you may find things become more and more obvious and simple. Approaching life as a scientist brings a simplicity to it and it can even begin to be enjoyable.

Observing how foods, drinks, entertainment, and activities that we do during the day impact our sleep in the evening, becomes a beautiful preparation for a good night’s rest. As sleep can restore us, settle us, and we can even return to the naturally delicate and precious being as on the day we were born.

Sleep is essential for all of us, our bodies need quality sleep, and it can be a very beautiful space to let go of the day and connect to a stillness that we all hold beneath the surface of the busyness of life. Exploring, being more aware, observing what supports and what does not support our sleep, is a life-changing exercise, as when your body remembers how grand it is to feel rested and rejuvenated, it begins to hold this dear again and starts wanting to prepare itself for sleep. The body becomes more and more responsive to the depth of rest it can have during the sleep, and this depth of connection and stillness can be felt as glorious, as you wake feeling very ready to engage with the day ahead.

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  • [1]

    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.2147/NSS.S134864 Medic G, Wille M, Hemels ME, (2017). Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nature and Science of Sleep. 19; 9:151-161. doi: 10.2147/NSS.S134864. PMID: 28579842; PMCID: PMC5449130

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