Insomnia: The Night Prowler
There was a time when I slept the sleep of the innocent. That was in the dim distant past.
Menopause first threw a spanner in the machine, with its 3-4am wake-ups. Once I was wide awake, too bad, that was it for the night.
Man-o-pause sleep, I’ve heard, isn’t any better. No matter what our gender, eventually we all succumb. What is it? The influence of waning hormones?
Recently, my husband went to The Sleep Clinic to investigate the cause of his brand of insomnia. Its likely cause is sleep apnoea. A positive diagnosis may be reassuring for him, though it will undoubtedly require mechanical interventions.
Ageing brings its own brand of crazy sleep patterns. Remember when we were in full-time employment and availed ourselves of power naps? These were meant to increase our work productivity. Now we require these breaks but we call them nana naps. We need them for our basic survival.
We elders talk a lot about our medical conditions, procedures and surgeries. And we do yammer on about our sleep difficulties. But we aren’t the only sufferers. Babies and teenagers don’t fit into neat sleep patterns either. As a result, neither do their sleep-deprived parents.
Come to think of it, not too many of us fall into the arms of Hypnos each night and enjoy an undisturbed, long night’s sleep.
For my part, I have a special problem with sleep the night before I teach a big workshop. This difficulty is at its worst when I’ve been asked to be a presenter at conferences. Even after years of teaching and with all my yoga techniques, I can be awake half the night before these events. Not a good look for a presenter.
I came across some great suggestions for what to do the day after a restless night. These were originally published in the London Evening Standard, and I’ve expanded on them. They make so much sense. If only we can arouse ourselves enough to remember them!
- Acceptance: If I try to push away the feeling that I am sleep-deprived, I only make the symptoms worse. As the adage goes, what you resist, persists. When I can stay mindful, I drop all the judgments about my tiredness. As always, being in the moment supports dealing with whatever comes my way.
- Movement: I might feel like I’m too tired to even get out of bed, but it makes all the difference to mobilise my body. Once out of bed, I might talk myself into doing a restorative yoga practice. Then, just the fact I’ve gotten up and got going carries its own momentum. I find myself doing more asanas I thought I could: standing poses, backbends or salutes. Going for a walk on the beach or anywhere in the fresh air is another great strategy. Getting some exercise through the day also means I’m more likely to sleep well that night.
- Coffee and tea: I limit myself to two coffees a day. Even suffering from lack of sleep, I keep to my regimen and have them in the early part of the day. Even if you don’t regularly caffeinate, after a sleepless night, you may want to spoil yourself.
- Savasana, yoga nidra and napping: I employ any of these relaxations to counter the effects of a sleepless night. Listening to savasana or yoga nidra audio recordings is a simple and effective support. Mindful listening to recordings helps me avoid slipping into an overly long sleep. Similarly, with napping, it’s best not to overdo it. Or, you end up sleepless for a second night. I aim for a 30-minute nap, not too late in the day. Even if you aren’t a ‘napper’, you can spend the 30 minutes just practising relaxation. That sort of practice is always time well spent.
- Eating and Drinking: Spoiling yourself with a good coffee or tea is one thing. But trying to get your energy up with sugary foods will only make you feel more tired in the long run. When I’m teaching a retreat or a weeklong intensive, I follow the protocol I suggest to the students. I try to eat wholesomely, have my evening meal relatively early and avoid drinking alcohol. On the subject of alcohol, the liver processes whatever you drink well into the night. While drinking alcohol may have you fall into a deep asleep early on, you can end up wide awake around 3 or 4 am.
- Connect: You may feel like you want to cancel the activities that you’ve planned, whether they are work-related, studies or social. Rather than lose a whole day, I try to connect with others and keep to routines and appointments. It makes me feel better about myself and sets me up for a better night’s sleep by sticking to the program.
- Gentle, gentle: All of the above are simple suggestions. The main thing is to go gently into the day. Look and see how best to support yourself in an unforced way, but still stay engaged with life.
Dr. Guy Meadows of The Sleep School sums up this last suggestion:
“Getting on with your life is the most important thing you can do when suffering with insomnia–even with all the symptoms that are showing up. The reason for this is because, in the middle of the night, one of the things keeping us awake is the anxiety that we won’t be able to get through the day. But if you prove to yourself that you can in fact live your life, there’s less reason to struggle at night, and you can start to break the vicious cycle, and begin a whole new approach. Everything about this is psychological, and a change of perspective is crucial.”
Here’s a bonus suggestion from a previous ‘Yoga with Eve Grzybowski’ blog post: From Sleep Deprived to Sweet Dreams.