(4 minute read)
Once upon a time…far, far away, in a land filled with fluffy clouds and talking animals… yeah, I know, it doesn’t exist. But we can dream right! Well, maybe I could dream if I could get a decent night’s sleep.
Sleep is so fundamental. I have discovered it isn’t as simple as closing your eyes, counting backwards from 10 and counting sheep bouncing over your head. Quality sleep is more challenging and regulated by many factors. I am a dolphin, not literally, lol, but I have a dolphin sleep chronotype. Dolphins is one of the four animal categories Dr. Breus uses to symbolize different chronotypes. He is a sleep expert. You can take this quiz and see whether you are a dolphin, bear, lion or wolf. (https://thepowerofwhenquiz.com).
If you think of dolphins, they are water and air elements. They swim around together in the ocean and did you know, they only sleep for a few hours. Their breathing is consciously controlled, and they are aware of it all the time so they can survive. It means they never go into a deep sleep. They shut only one eye at a time, and only half of their brain switches off. Half asleep; half a functioning brain. Yup, that’s me when it comes to sleep!
I have fond memories of dolphins. For me as a child, Flipper was the fish version of Lassie. Ping. But back to our sleep conversation. Mine hasn’t been great for many years. I would sleep in four-hour periods or less. I always woke tired with brain fog and struggling to get moving. When I took the chronotype quiz (link above) and read the “animal” description, it wasn’t a surprise when it said I was a dolphin. Very typically, I repeated the test a few times to be 100% sure. Heaven forbid I didn’t fill it out properly. Perfectionism and self-doubt two of the many dolphin traits. Could I accept the summary it had given me?
I’ve tried nearly everything to improve my sleep. Wearing different fabric pj’s, changing the weight of my coverings and hot baths. Exercising or not exercising, drinking and not drinking water. I even tried sleep aids, alcohol, bananas (I know) and melatonin. At times, I would fall asleep too quickly, other times not at all. The worst one for me is when I cannot go to sleep at all. When is my brain supposed to shut off? I almost got to the point of thinking something was wrong with me, was my sleep broken?
So, what did I do? First of all, I started to build in a “sleep routine,” and this was the first thing that started to make any difference. Doing exactly the same things every single night: toilet, brush teeth, wash face and bed at the same time. I aimed to be in bed by 10.30 so I had time to listen to a guided meditation or relaxation music. I was having success. The quantity and quality of my sleep improved. I had not slept six hours consistently in years. But as with most things, they work until they don’t.
The way I cope with high levels of stress directly affects my sleep. I also struggle to eat properly when I am stressed. I become so fight or flight in my head. I am often so disconnected from what I feel, I am not aware my body is hungry, therefore, my sugar levels are lower. This directly affects my sleep because the blood sugar dips increase my night sweats. When I’m in this high state of alertness, and the adrenaline is flying around, my brain is so wired, it won’t switch off. Because my brain is spinning when I am awake, I become so consumed by stress itself, I am then unaware of what time it is. I then begin ignoring the normal bed-time routine that I have proven works for me. It vanishes in thin air. This is all a vicious cycle.
When I am stressed, another saboteur directly affects my sleep. My electronic use increases. I do this both consciously and unconsciously. I will use it as an excuse to escape or decompress. For me, when I am under long-term stress or stress sources I am trying to avoid, I become a master at distraction. For me, that is escaping to the land of silly games, social media feeds, or scrolling for hours on end on TikTok. I am a sucker for cute cat videos or singing or dancing videos. My self-talk: “five minutes.” I grab my tablet, and as the finger scrolling begins, the hours fly by until I doze off to wake up and start all over again.
In the morning, what is the first thing I directly do to avoid the stress, yet again? That’s right, check my phone and focus on what is going on in everyone’s life since the last time I checked in. This process has become so intrinsically entwined in our daily lives that we don’t even realize it is an issue. A habit. An escape. A sleep sucker.
Where am I going with all of this? Well lately my sleep has been suffering. With all my wake ups, I am averaging only a total of four hours of sleep total. I didn’t need to check my Fitbit to know I was sleeping poorly. This is a big red flag for me. I thought ok I need to get back into a routine again. I know what works. But if I’m honest, I know I need to make more fundamental changes and keep them embedded.
Firstly, I knew I needed to start with the biggest culprit of all…no electronics in the bedroom. I had resisted doing this with excuses, “but my phone is my alarm” or “I use my phone to listen to music.” These were both true, but internally I was avoiding making a change. Fast forward to this week, I’m exhausted. I am either freezing cold or soaked with night sweats. I simply feel pretty crappy. Then one night, I found myself browsing late at night and landed on one of my favorites – the Amazon app. What was staring at me? A silk eye mask, and I thought why don’t I actually buy something practical. I wsd willing to try anything to sleep better. But after swiping to “buy in now,” I noticed the “ultimate sleep mask.” A padded, built- in microphone and speakers, state of the art eye mask. I thought ok wow this is the answer! I can listen to my relaxation apps with this eye mask allowing me to leave my phone in a different room. The mask is sure to help me break the habit of playing gaming apps all night.
I kept it in my Amazon cart for two days knowing if I bought it, I would be fully committed. The beauty of purchases these days is I didn’t have to wait long. It arrived the following day. I instantly tried it on and OMG it is so comfortable and totally blocks out all light. Now that I have it, I cannot contain my excitement to try it out.
Wish me luck. I know I’ve got to do things differently. I know sleep is vital to our overall health. So, here’s to trying new things and putting myself first. I am on a roll. Good night, Sleeping Beauty.