A serious crisis is occurring in our world. No one is sleeping. Are you a part of that crisis too? You're not alone! Read on for how I helped Sophia!
The first time I met Sophia I was instantly struck by the energy in her voice. Before she got to the crux of the problem that brought her to me, I wondered how this 43-year-old woman was managing to balance her demanding corporate career with two equally demanding kids - and it didn’t take me long to realize she wasn’t. Upon closer inspection she was frequently stifling yawns and had heavy bags under her eyes, her upbeat voice was clearly the result of her pushing through her own exhaustion.
Like many women in her situation who are hunting for that elusive work-life balance, she had managed to tip the scales in such a way that it appeared those two needs were being met, but in the process had neglected her own well-being.
Sophia approached me for advice after suffering from abnormal sleep patterns. She had difficulty falling asleep most nights, and when she did get to sleep it was often interrupted and disjointed, leaving her feeling broken and exhausted in the morning when she woke up. In the previous months, she mentioned, she had noticed increased feelings of stress, anxiety and raging irritability. Her short term memory was suffering and she was finding herself feeling less alert - both at work and at home.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that she was prioritizing her work and family ahead of her own health, and doing so was proving to be detrimental to all three. I see this everyday with my clients, it’s an epidemic!
While it quickly became apparent that her poor sleeping habits were at the crux of her problems, I knew it was not going to be as easy as just telling her to get a little bit of shut eye. She was going to have to undertake some serious lifestyle changes if she was going to overcome her sleep challenges - but luckily my prescription isn’t as difficult as it sounds.
Ahead, I lay out the four big changes I asked her to make to her life along with explanations about why these work. They might seem overwhelmingly simple, but the fact is that these little lifestyle tweaks can make a world of difference if you’re struggling to sleep at night.
LIMIT YOUR SCREEN TIME
With her challenging corporate career it’s not surprising that she finds herself taking her work home with her more often than not, but whether she finds herself responding to emails on her phone late at night or checking in on social media, I knew the late-night screen time had to stop!
The blue light from our devices can have a negative effect on our sleep patterns because it tricks our brain into thinking it is still daytime and limits the amount of melatonin our brain produces - and without melatonin, you’re going to struggle to get to sleep. (I talk about this all the time.)
While it is definitely important to step away from your devices and start dimming the lights to help your body bring on the natural sleep process, it also helps to not have access to the stresses of your daily life at your fingertips at all times of the night.
I reached out to Arianna Huffington to help with this article with one question, “If you could change one sleep habit what would it be?” Her graceful response was, “The most important step in your bedtime routine is to gently escort your phone outside your bedroom. Our phones are repositories of everything we need to put away to allow us to sleep -- our to-do lists, our in-boxes, our anxieties. So if you make it a regular part of your bedtime ritual to gently escort your phone outside of your bedroom as you get ready for bed, you’ll be much more likely to wake up as fully charged as your phone.”
Leave your phone to charge outside your room and get yourself an old school alarm clock to make sure you don’t oversleep your office hours! If you’re feeling restless towards bed time and your fingers start twitching for the comfort of your phone then pull out a real book with pages and take the opportunity to use your brain until you’re ready for bed.
When I asked about Sophia’s exercise routine she laughed in my face. Between work and getting dinner put on the table, she was lucky to get 15 minutes of exercise time a day. While getting out of the house for an exercise class might not be a possibility for everyone every day, it’s important that we move our bodies. Not only is our sedentary lifestyle creating detrimental effects on us, whether you have aches, pains or injuries, but an active lifestyle can help you to get to sleep easier at night.
The key is not putting too much pressure on yourself. If you’re not able to get away for an hour long gym session then find a quick morning routine that will get you ready for the day.
“Exercise, particularly in the morning can not only provide a huge boost of energy during your day, but it also can establish a strong anchor point for your brain's circadian rhythm that can help with sleep. The adenosine exercise produces can help to enrich and deepen your sleep at night.” Sleep expert, neurologist Dr. Chris Winter and the author of Sleep Solutions is big proponent of exercise’s benefits when it comes to your sleep and I couldn’t agree more.
When you’re still struggling through a rough night’s sleep it might seem impossible to get up and head to the gym in the morning, but even getting up 10 minutes early and doing quick energizing exercise routine will be a positive step in the right direction.
LET GO OF YOUR DAY
When we’re full of stress it can be very easy to lie in bed awake at night, with thoughts of everything you need to get done the next day swirling through your head. This stops us from being able to get to sleep and adds to our building anxiety. There are two big things that I asked Sophia to start doing: the first was writing a list of everything she needs to get done the next day and that she’s finding stressful. By writing them down
The second thing is something I think is important in all of our lives, regardless of how our sleep is faring: meditation. And I’m not alone with this. Studies have repeatedly shown that meditation not only helps you problem solve better and reduce your stress, but it also releases feel good hormones like endorphins, as well as cortisol, which is important in helping to reduce stress.
“Meditation is like a tonic. A tonic is something that you can use everyday, and the results continue to get better and better. The more you meditate, the more calm and presence you’ll have in your day-to-day life.” Shawn Stevenson is a sleep expert, and he knows that meditation is just one of the factors in your daily life that can greatly improve your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
For a double whammy combine your daily meditation session with yoga, which has been proven to help you reduce the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep, as well as helping you to reduce stress and anxiety. By making a combination of yoga and meditation a part of her daily routine, even if it were just for 15 minutes a day, Sophia was able to reap massive benefits without eating into her already demanding schedule.
TAKE A LOOK AT YOUR DIET
We all know how easily caffeine can affect our sleep, so it didn’t surprise me to learn that Sophia would often find herself exhausted from sleep deprivation that would leave her feeling sluggish by midday, so to counteract it she would drink more coffee in the afternoon. This cycle needs to be stopped, so we started by saying she shouldn’t drink coffee after lunch and should instead get her energy from healthy snacks throughout the day.
But that’s not the only way your diet can affect your sleeping patterns, especially if you ignore all the signs your body is giving you about the fuel you’re providing it with.
“Don't eat anything that might make your gut mad. You can't sleep well with gastrointestinal distress.” While this statement mainly brings to mind severe incidents, it can be as simple as a bubbling or difficulty digesting that can keep you tossing and turning.
We started by cutting out refined sugars and processed food, prescribing a diet that was high in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. We made sure it included lots of dietary fiber and healthy fats, but also to include some fermented products to help foster healthy gut bacteria.
Finally, we made sure she was drinking enough water, as dehydration can also play a part in making it difficult to fall asleep or to make good food choices throughout the day.
These lifestyle changes were easy for Sophia to incorporate into her busy routine, they had a huge impact on her quality of life. Not only did it have a positive effect on her sleeping habits, but mindfulness and meditation also helped her to create better habits to help separate her work and home life more effectively.
She was no longer Sour Sophia… She was now happy and taking on her life in new ways. When we first started working together I asked her what she most wanted from her life, her response was, “Lane, I want to travel more, perhaps three times a year!” This was a big dream, as before her kids and before her marriage, she traveled quite frequently. Low and behold I received a message recently.
I’ve done it, I’m on the plane to Paris and I can’t wait to share the city with my children, thank you for guiding me to a lifestyle that is full, and do-able without that dreadful anxiety I was living with
everyday. I will let you know how the streets of Paris are with my two kids and a husband! Wishing you a great day.
Do you have a dream you are waiting to happen? Sleep is the answer. Find out how I can help you get more sleep.
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