It's been awhile since my last post. The heat and smoke we have been experiencing in Vancouver these past few weeks has me struggling to keep motivated and life commitments have been piling up. I found a few spare minutes the other day and have been reflecting, once again, on the topic of sleep.
Following my first blog post on the topic which can be found here I was asked to specifically address how to get back to sleep when you wake up during the night. This is a good question because it is a common problem and one I have personally experienced, so here are my thoughts on the topic.
Waking up in the middle of the night can occur for any number of reasons. A typical sleep cycle is approximately four hours in length and throughout the cycle there are times when we become more easily roused from sleep. In addition, many medications that are used to help to achieve sleep can wear off and result in pre-mature waking. So, waking up in the night really isn't uncommon but it becomes a problem when we are unable to adjust our pillow, pull up the blankets, roll over and resume sleeping.
Knowing why we woke up in the middle of the night isn’t necessarily helpful in our attempt to return to rest. I rarely find myself questioning what woke me up in the first place, and am much more concerned with how to get back to dreamland. What is useful when faced with frustration and anxiety of incomplete sleep, is to understand that it isn’t unusual and is in fact quite common. Our bodies function in routine, and when that routine involves an incomplete night’s sleep it can be very difficult to change. In an effort to be helpful, here are three things that I practice when I find myself waking in the night.
First step, self-awareness (mindfulness is the catchy new counsellor term) and acceptance. The first step to changing our pattern of waking during the night is to accept that it will take time. It takes time to establish a new routine that our body recognizes and patience and perseverance to make it happen. An affirmation, or saying to yourself something along the lines of, 'this is normal, I know this is going to happen because this is what my body is used to, it’s okay' can help reduce feelings of stress or anxiety and allow you to relax, essential elements for sleeping.
Step two, a new routine. When you wake up in the middle of the night (again), this is the time to create a new routine. I suggest implementing a 're-set'. Get a glass of water, stretch your legs or use the washroom. What you are doing is preparing as you would at the beginning of the night for bed. You’re telling your body that it’s bedtime, providing it with the cues it needs to wind down and fall back to sleep. You may need to do this a few times if you are finding sleep is not coming quickly or easily to you.
Step three, patience and perseverance. “But Mark, I need sleep now!” I know, but remember we are practicing acceptance and awareness, we know our body needs time to change. You can do it, but you can’t do it in one night. So stick to your new approach, practicing mindfulness, acceptance and a re-set with confidence that it will, over time, produce results.
Finally, there are times when life circumstances are so great that simple solutions won't cut it. For these times I highly recommend speaking with your doctor and considering the support of a trained therapist. Sleep is essential to overall wellbeing, you don't have to suffer alone.