I am a collector of sleep memes: you know the ones – a picture of someone trying to sleep with a cartoon of their brain hovering over them reminding them of something that happened during the day…….
We’ve had a pretty intense week here with my brilliant 18 year old son getting 5 amazing A level results (A*A*A*AA): which he thoroughly deserved and worked hard for. However he still missed out on his first choice of university place due to the competition this year and the reduced places due to last year's deferrals. As a result we have all been anxious and upset and my brain has been working overtime just as I am trying to sleep.
Most people will be familiar with this scenario – you are fine all day and then as soon as your head hits the pillow your brain goes over and over things and will not let you sleep. We distract ourselves all day by staying busy, working, surfing the internet, talking to friends and family, getting the chores done, watching TV…… but then when we go to bed there is nothing but ourselves and our busy brain.
The difference for me since I have been working in the field of sleep is that crucially I don’t worry about this. If after 30 minutes I can’t sleep, I get up, make myself a warm (decaffeinated) drink, sit down with a pen and paper, and brain dump everything that is niggling me. Writing it down really helps – I often liken it to Dumbledore touching his wand to his head and putting a wispy memory into the pensieve for Harry to view, except I am writing it down to look at tomorrow.
My advice for those anxiety driven night wakenings is to get up, write everything down and then do something quietly enjoyable (not boring or screen based). As soon as you notice that you are yawning that is your cue to go back to bed – and you will sleep then. This breaks the cycle of lying in bed worrying about the fact that you are not sleeping, which creates more anxiety and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You can cope with occasional disrupted nights and will catch up with missed sleep – it is not letting it become a habit and which creates more anxiety that is the key.
Everyone has times when sleep evades them, it is what you do about it that is important 😊