Sleep is an important part of our overall health and supports our ability to cope and think. Sleep has a massive impact on our ability to cope with daily life. I often hear you can do anything when you have a good night’s sleep and I totally agree. We know we need to rest, to recover, rebuild and re-energise. But it can be hard to get a good night’s sleep if we are holding onto the emotions and thoughts experienced during the day. Replaying conversations and wishing we had said something else, wishing we didn’t do some things and do other things, and remembering all the things we didn’t get around to doing that day can lead to tossing and turning, racing thoughts, and staring at the ceiling and watching the clock.
Poor sleep affects our long term health
Continued sleep problems increase our risk of heart disease, developing diabetes, and impact our immune system. When we are sleep-deprived, we are unable to think clearly and rationally. It can make us irritable, which makes us more hyper-alert to the interactions we have with others. Lack of sleep can make us more sensitive to perceived threats – when it comes to defense, a tired opponent is weaker and more vulnerable to attack. But this can trigger anxious thoughts and feelings, and our inner alarm system edges closer to red alert. This cycle of not sleeping because you feel anxious, and feeling anxious because you’re not having quality sleep, can be hard to break.
Although stimulants like caffeine and nicotine can make us feel more awake when we’re tired, it can disrupt our sleeping patterns too. If you are using these crutches to support your day, try to limit them in the hours leading up to your bedtime.You may decide that you become less reliant on these stimulants in favour of another alternative that offers comfort without the side effects. Alcohol can interfere with sleeping patterns too, so while you might think it can help you to get to sleep, it can cause you to wake up more often throughout the night. It has a comfortable numbing effect that blocks out the whirring in our heads at times of stress or anxiety. Instead, try swapping for some of the various herbal teas available, some contain natural ingredients thought to relax and aid a peaceful night’s sleep. After a poor nights sleep, your crutch might be caffeine – strong coffee, or energy drinks. Whilst the initial boost from these drinks might feel good, they stimulate the ‘fight or flight’ response in our bodies, so can contribute to making the feelings of anxiety worse. People who are sensitive to the effects of caffeine may feel the symptoms of anxiety for a few days after consumption.
When I was unwell I would sleep between 2 and 4 hours and got through my days as well as I could with depression. I could take or leave sleep, it wasn’t a priority, wasn’t on my list. If I laid in bed and not slept well, I didn’t really notice much impact for about 5 – 6 months and then I would crash on a Sunday afternoon and sleep through family film time. As a result of getting used to just a few hours sleep, I could just as easily stay up now as I could go to sleep. When I was ill with depression, I would choose to stay up until I was dropping. Going to bed allowed my thoughts free reign to bombard me and confuse me and trigger powerful emotions that made my sleep worthless. If I laid in bed and not slept well, I didn’t really notice much impact for about 5 – 6 months and then I would crash on a Sunday afternoon and sleep through family film time. I often hear other people talking about depression and anxiety in terms of stereotypical behaviours. Depression being described as sleeping all day, not getting dressed, looking sad, never smiling, etc. Anxiety being described as people shaking, shouting irrationally, acting aggressively, etc. But often its more the opposite – you can have depression no matter what you’re doing or showing on the outside. We are masters in disguise hiding whats going on inside for us.
This is one noticeable change you can see where feelings of anxiety or low mood start to creep in. Sleep evades you or you crave the dark silence that sleep brings and you sleep for too long. You place a trust and loyalty in the anxiety, in the familiar chaos within your own body and mind. It becomes comfortable to live there. The thoughts fill your mind with worries, fears, self berating, self judging, heavy and nasty. The overwhelming thoughts filling your body with energy to fight the very thing you cannot see but makes you feel emotionally unsafe, confusion becomes a comfort. I also have clients who sleep way too much. The self punishing thoughts race around your mind without reprieve. Even when your body sleeps your mind is active. The exhaustion drags you down as the fight between the tiny rational you and the controlling anxiety plays out moment to moment. These and many more degrading, self punishing thoughts were repeated by the minute, on a loop, no off switch, no peace. I’d go to sleep on a negative thought and wake up on the same negative thoughts. These thoughts were torturing me relentlessly, they went on and on and on. It was awful to live with the insistent, persistent and constant negativity. Add to that daily stress, parenting stress, financial stress, relationship stress, stress on top of stress and children, family and people relying on me to meet their needs too.
Rest is important for our growth and recovery.
Developing a healthy sleep routine can help lower your feelings of anxiety. Adding exercise into your day helps by relieving tension and can help reset your body’s natural body clock. Some forms of exercise can be relaxing for your body as well as your mind – for example swimming, walking the dog, yoga. Making room for some quiet time before bed helps too – reading a book and avoiding tv, enjoying a warm bath in peace, or listening to relaxing music. It may help to start keeping a journal, so you can get all of your thoughts down on paper so your brain gets trained to relax and let go of the things that have been bothering you. You could try some mindfulness techniques such as colouring books or meditation audios which soothe your mind and body. You may wish to talk to your doctor about more ways to help you get a restful sleep. Some studies have looked at the link between blue light and sleep patterns, suggesting the light mimics daylight enough to disrupt our natural body clock. Blue light refers to that which emits from electronic screens – mobile phones, tablets, laptops, the distractions we use when we are struggling with worries, stresses, and poor sleep habits. Whilst cutting down on the use of these devices prior to your regular sleep pattern will help, you may wish to look at night-time settings on your electronic devices which dim the screen light emitted, reducing the blue light effect. Blue-light blocking glasses offer the same benefits – they screen out the blue light from a screen, restoring normal sleep patterns. It’s thought that these filtering glasses help shift-workers particularly, helping with sleep duration, quality of sleep and help to address sleep problems.
Sleep may seem like a waste of time to the busy, who may stave off tiredness in favour of getting through an endless to-do list. In fact, many people don’t realise that they are sleep deprived, but its a common pattern of thinking in modern life. But the health implications are worthy of consideration – Ongoing sleep disturbance can lead to obesity, emotional highs-and-lows, low mood and a lowered perception of quality of life. When you are sleep deprived, you are less energised and less productive. Look at it this way – you have less energy to do the things you love, the things that excite, the things that give you joy. Are you really too busy and too short on time to enjoy your own life?
Without an understanding of the cause of your negative emotions and thoughts, you can’t make the changes you need to positively improve your lifestyle.
Coaching can start a change to these patterns. Once you are able to realise the emotions that grow these berating thoughts, you can address and express them in more healthy ways. Many of my clients talk about the difficulties of getting to sleep once the thoughts start up, they consume their mind and body. If they do manage to fall asleep, the minute they wake the thoughts start again, and sleep does not come again that night. Its one factor I see changing as a result of coaching my clients, that they can go from over-sleeping or under-sleeping to getting restful nights of sleep and healthy sleep habits. Its become a focus, a ‘dream’ – pardon the pun. One lady sleeping eight hours a day and still feeling exhausted, it got so bad she had to be off work on sick leave. Two weeks after she completed the coaching programme, she was back in work with a 9 hour sleep pattern and feeling energised. Thoughts no longer control bedtime or sleep quality, and they feel more in control what of their mind, and their life. Coaching has brought about the realisation that they can decide what to think about and the actions they choose to take. Its one habit I actively put into practice myself too- I now put lots of effort into getting quality sleep, more so than quantity.
If you would like to explore what healthy changes and choices coaching can support in your life, you can find out more about my approach here. As an emotional empowerment coach, I want to inspire my clients to take back control of their lives and live happier, fulling lifestyles. Please get tin touch if you would like to find out more.