If you’ve been following my year on social media, you know it’s been a doozy for me. There’s all the obvious stuff (racism, COVID, election— 2020 has been a firey hellscape), plus my journey through PPD and new motherhood with a very high needs baby. It’s been ROUGH and my sleep has suffered tremendously. Even once Theo was reliably sleeping 11 hours a night, I’ve never been able to string together more than 4 hours at a time, and that was on a good night.
My days were so stressful, hectic, and draining that I never felt sleepy no matter how late it got. It’s like my nervous system didn’t know how to come down. I’d eventually pass out from sheer exhaustion around 2am only to start my day again a few hours later. This went on for months until I really started to feel the physical toll it was taking.
A couple months ago, I started seriously prioritizing my sleep and I’m a better mom, partner, and business owner for it. Here’s what changed the game for me:
- Doing the New York Times Crossword
…as soon as I get in bed INSTEAD of scrolling social media. Yes, for real! My brain starts looking for something to work on as soon as my head hits the pillow and this always turns into anxiety about something I can’t control. It’s like the moment I have some down time, my brain says, “alright so here’s a list of problems and worries I’ve been saving for you…” Doing this crossword every day gives my brain what I call a dead end problem to fix. It’s not a real world “problem” or anything relavent to my actual life, it’s just something to wear it out. Like when you give your dog one of those toys with a treat stick inside. It’s pointless but it’s just stimulating enough to satisfy their need to be active. So it sounds lame but the daily crossword has been SO helpful in controlling the anxiety that crops up at night. It’s a healthy and challenging distraction that leads me right to that sleepy state I want to be in before dozing off.
2. Get to bed early.
I know this sounds obvious, but I never did it! I truly was NOT tired before 2am so going to bed at 9:30 felt like torture! Plus, after T goes to bed around 7:30pm is the best time I get with my husband to just hang out and relax. I didn’t want to sacrifice a minute of that. But if I wanted to start feeling better, it was necessary. Now we get into bed by 10:15 at the latest and usually fall asleep by 11/11:15.
3. Counting breaths.
I might not feel *sleepy* but I know my body and mind need and want to sleep. I started trying to quiet my mind with deep belly breaths fully believing it would do nothing, but lo and behold, it WORKED. Once the lights are out and I’ve worked my brain on my crossword (😜🤓), I start to feel tired. Then I put down my phone and take fulllll, slowwww, breaths in and out through my nose. I focus on feeling my belly rise fully and gently fall. I basically hypnotize myself 😂 With each exhale I visualize my body getting heavier, my thoughts evaporating, and everything relaxing into the comfort of my bed. I really lean into “the tired” and try to go with it instead of thinking in circles. Most nights, I don’t even make it to 10 breaths before I fall asleep and I don’t even remember when it happens.
It’s a very fine balance for me. I made the mistake of staying on IG the other night instead of crosswording, ended up reading a heartbreaking story about someone’s 3-year-old with leukemia, and then I was awake til 3am alternating between pictures of Theo and watching him sleep on the baby monitor. I was so sad for this family and then so afraid for my own, I couldn’t bring my nerves down… See, you must know yourself! Know what triggers your anxiety and be mindful enough to stay away from it before bed… or always, actually! Shielding your mind and protecting your mental health is the ultimate form of self-care.
With my new habits, a good night usually gets me 7 hours of sleep and falling asleep within 30-45 minutes, but I get a minimum of 6 every night… and last night I got 8.5!!! It’s a work in progress but progress is all I’m after. Find what works for you and then STAY ON IT!
Over to you: what’s your sleep secret? I tried melatonin and felt so drugged by it, it actually freaked me out!